A A retired Army special operations combat medic explained Saturday night how the tragic death of a Texas soldier in Iraq brought him full circle the first time he participated in a Warrior’s Weekend in Port O’Connor.
sergeant. 1st Class Brandon Lloyd, a retired Army Special Warfare combat medic, spoke to attendees of Saturday night’s 2022 Warrior’s Weekend Rally about a soldier he lost in Tikrit, Iraq , end of 2003.
His speech was the highlight of Warrior’s Weekend Muster, which returned to the community center in Victoria for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. A series of bad luck with COVID surges and inclement weather prevented organizers from holding the fundraiser for two years, but Saturday’s crowds filled the community center’s dome with veterans, supporters, games, d auction items and memorabilia.
Warrior’s Weekend executive coordinator Kandace Monney and chairman Ron Kocian said the 2022 fundraiser likely topped the record year of 2019. Although he couldn’t hold the usual fundraiser due to In the face of the pandemic, partnerships with Palace Bingo and 5D Steakhouse have allowed Warrior’s Weekend to continue to organize fishing trips for veterans injured in recent years, albeit on a reduced scale. In 2022, events will run at full speed.
Saturday’s program began at 2 p.m. with raffle buckets, a silent auction and various games. Attendees then enjoyed ribeye steak dinners before the evening ceremonies.
The bustling crowd in the dome of the community center stopped for the solemn POW/MIA ceremony, roll call and recognition of the Gold Star families in attendance.
But the conclusion was underlined by moving accounts from Lloyd, a retired Army special operations medic who had also been a sniper, and his friend, Dan Hernandez, a veterinarian and poet.
Lloyd spoke of both his experiences on deployment and as an initially reluctant participant in a Warrior’s Weekend trip about a dozen years ago.
He told the crowd on Saturday he was shocked when he arrived in Port O’Connor for his first weekend to find a large banner with a picture of SPC. Richard Arriaga – a soldier he had tried to save while serving in Iraq seven years earlier. Arriaga, from Ganado, was killed in action on September 18, 2003 in Tikrit at the age of 20.
“A lot of things would happen in my life over the next seven and a half years,” said Lloyd, who would spend 3 more years in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I have been seriously injured once in each country.” He spent 18 months in and out of hospitals and had numerous surgeries. While assigned to the Wounded Warrior Unit at Fort Campbell, a friend told Lloyd about Warrior’s Weekend.
“I had absolutely no desire to put myself in such a situation,” Lloyd said, explaining that he didn’t think he was ready at the time. Reluctantly, Lloyd said he finally capitulated because fishing appealed to him.
Lloyd said after arriving on the field of Warrior’s Weekend in Victoria, he was still trying to get his bearings. It was then that he heard Warrior’s Weekend manager and retired Colonel Mike Petrash call Arriaga’s name during roll call. Thinking it couldn’t be the same man, Lloyd said he got on the bus for Port O’Connor, where he came face to face with the Banner.
“I couldn’t understand that by chance I’m at the exact place, at the exact time, with an organization that honors a soldier I lost on the battlefield – thousands of miles away, almost 8 years earlier,” Lloyd said. It was then that Lloyd introduced himself to retired Colonel Petrash and Warrior’s Weekend President Ron Kocian, and later, Arriaga’s family.
Kandace Moneyy said Lloyd has been something of an ambassador for Warrior’s Weekend since then, but Saturday was the first time he shared his story at the rally.
“I’ve heard Brandon’s story before,” she said. “I heard it from Brandon, but I’ll tell you, standing there with him and watching him tell his story like he’s in the moment again – like he’s back there – really moved me.
Warrior’s Weekend 2022 kicks off Friday, May 20, when veterans heading to the event depart Houston in a convoy heading to Victoria. After traversing the main streets of towns like El Campo and Edna, veterans will arrive in Victoria in the early afternoon and take John Stockbauer Drive to Warrior’s Weekend Field of Honor at Church Parkway. From there, the veterans will take buses to Port O’Connor before a first day of fishing on Saturday.
Housing and transporting between 400 and 450 people is no easy task, but organizers said the weekend’s impact on injured veterans is palpable.
“I mean, we had people who said they were about to kill themselves. And they came here, and they went home and asked for help after that,” Money said. “It’s a heavy burden to bear, and we bear it.”