It’s not easy saying goodbye. Unfortunately during Brad Sanders’ lengthy military career, he’s spent his share of time away from home.
On Thursday, Sanders — who is the Vice Principal for Student Affairs for all grades at Moore County High School and Middle School — is prepared to leave yet again. Sanders and his Army National Guard unit will head to Texas where they’ll await orders that will likely take him to Afghanistan.
A Bedford County native who graduated from Tullahoma High School, Sanders joined the staff at MCHS a year ago. Moore County High School principal Buddy Smith, a military veteran himself, said he knew the possibility of a deployment was there when he hired Sanders away from Coffee County High School.
He also knows that a position at the school here awaits Sanders upon his return home.
“There will be a position waiting on him when he gets back and we hope that’s sooner rather than later,” said Smith, who said since his retirement from the service in 2002 he’s personally seen a deployed faculty member.
On Monday, MCHS faculty and students gathered in the gymnasium to wish Sanders a safe farewell. The road leading to the front of the school was lined with large American flags and there’s a banner in front of the school that reads “We Support Mr. Sanders.”
Smith said that while some of the students may not realize the gravity of Sanders’ situation, they’re thankful nonetheless, as is the MCHS staff. It showed during Monday’s ceremony.
“I think that’s a very positive reflection of the staff, faculty and our community,” said Smith. “This is a patriotic community and a patriotic school and that’s reflected by the adults in this building.
“Mr. Sanders built some strong relationships … built on respect and admiration. I think there’s some genuine affection for him on a professional level because of the leadership style he has and the job that he has done here. He’s been very supportive of the mission of our school and of our teachers and they greatly appreciate that.”
Sanders enlisted in the Army in 1987. After an overseas assignment to Germany, he was out of full time military in 1991. But he then joined the National Guard. His Guard unit was activated shortly after the Sept. 11 attack in 2001 and was part of the United States’ initial operations in Iraq, during which he received a Bronze Star — the fourth-highest individual military award and the ninth-highest by order of precedence in the United States military.
During his time in the National Guard, Sanders worked through the ranks of an enlisted soldier to first lieutenant. He’s now in charge of a transport platoon, which hauls heavy equipment — tanks and armored vehicles — into battlefields. Smith said he’s also involved in security ops for convoys.
Just days before departing for his third overseas tour, Sanders spoke briefly to the MCHS student body, staff and faculty. But he put much of the emphasis on the hundreds of other soldiers who will also be deploying soon.
“I wanted to come to a community high school. When I came here, I was overwhelmingly welcomed,” he said. “I’m not the only one deploying (from) Tennessee. There are four of five other units … more than 150 or so soldiers. They will need your support and prayers too.”
While Smith said this opportunity will help him develop and grow as a leader, it will be difficult on Sanders’ family.
“Family is probably the biggest thing. He has two small children,” Smith said. “He could be gone for almost a year if he does a complete tour. That’s pretty significant in the life of a child, so the biggest sacrifice is the separation of family.”
In his absence, Moore County faculty have reserved a parking spot for Sanders in front of the high school. It will be marked by a cone, an American flag, a traditional yellow ribbon and a no-parking sign.
—By ROBERT HOLMAN, editor & publisher