PFC Brian Botello lost his life in Iraq fighting for his country one year ago today. It has been a challenging and bittersweet year for his mom, Karyn Brophy, and sister Jamie, both of Alta; there have been good days and bad days.
But tonight, they will celebrate Brian's life with friends and family at Summit Church - everyone is invited to be a part of the event beginning with an ice cream social at 7:30 p.m. followed by the launch of prayer-filled balloons.
Brian was only 19 when he was killed in an explosion while on patrol; not nearly long enough for him to accomplaish all the things a mother wants for her child.
"I'm sad. I looked forward to Brian getting married, having children and me being a grandma," Karyn said. "But I know that God has a purpose for all of us and Brian fulfilled his. God used Brian in many good ways. I have to accept it and go on."
She managed a smile saying that her son would not want her sitting around feeling sorry so herself. "He'd tell me, 'Mom, get a life.'"
Karyn and Jamie have not been forgotten throughout this difficult year. She thanks everyone, from the bottom of her heart, for their support.
"My church family has been so good and my family came to my side right away. This community has been so supportive - so many thanks to them. I don't know how to explain the appreciation I have for everyone. I have never been one to hide my affection. I appreciate this community so much."
She is still overwhelmed as she looks back on Brian's funeral - some 700 people attended the service and she still sees the yellow ribbons that were brought out when the community learned of Brian's death.
Brian has been honored by so many people - even many that Karyn does not know. She received hundreds of cards and many beautiful gifts.
The United Methodist Church planted a tree in Brian's honor in the park overlooking the football field where he loved to play as a member of the Cyclone team. Members of his class (2005) placed a beautiful plaque at the same site and last year's football players wore #71, Brian's old number, on their helmets.
The VFW presented Karyn with a wreath at Christmas time which they took to Arkansas and placed on Brian's grave.
The Cyclone wrestling coaches instituted the Brian Botello award that will be presented for 25 years - to the athlete that works the hardest. Karyn helped present this year's award to Schuyler Radke.
At the end of last year Karyn accompanied several members of Summit Church to India where she had the privilege of donating guitars and drums to orphans living in church-sponsored homes in Brian's name. It was a very suitable gift; Brian always had music in his life. Karyn and Jamie were recently selected to serve as the grand marshals for this year's Star Spangled Spectacular parade. It is a great honor for them.
Probably the most heartwarming experience she had this year was traveling to Fort Carson, Colo., where she had the opportunity to meet several soldiers that had served with Brian in Iraq including the unit's chaplin, First Lt. Bland and Lt. Col. Phillips, many of whom she had kept in touch with since Brian's death.
"They were so sweet," she said. "They gave me a dozen long stem roses - that was a mama gift - and I got lots of big boy hugs. I needed that. Brian was always a hugger."
She brought many pictures of Brian throughout his growing years to share and they in turn shared pictures and many stories about Brian with her.
There were also many tears. A couple of the young soldiers told Karyn they have felt guilty that Brian lost his life and not them. In her gentle voice, Karyn assured them that this is how the "plan" was intended. She hopes her words helps the young men get over their feelings so they can go on living their lives to their fullest.
She intends to keep in touch with many of those soldiers.
"This will be a long-term friendship," she said, confident that her visit was good for everyone.
The event tonight will give everyone the opportunity to be together and share Brian's life.
"I still take one day at a time but I have had many reassuring things come from God this year that Brian is in a good place. That comforts me."
Brian Botello entered the U.S. Army shortly after his high school graduation and had recently re-enlisted for another five years, intending to make the Army his career. Brian Botello was one of three soldiers killed when a bomb exploded near their unit in Baghdad on April 29, 2007. The three soldiers were with the 3rd Squadron, 61st Calvary Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
He is buried in Fayetteville National Cemetery, Fayetteville, Ark.