Andrew Dys

Local soldier's holiday visit bittersweet on anniversary of brother's death

Ryan Tinsley is back from Iraq.

The place he did not have to go. A place that so many who knew him didn't want him to see.

Army Pfc. Ryan Tinsley from Chester went anyway.

The name Tinsley and the word Iraq in the same sentence a year ago meant Ryan's brother wasn't coming home to Chester until he was buried. On the day after Christmas last year, Army combat medic Spc. Logan Tinsley died at age 21 when the Humvee he was in overturned near Baghdad. His younger brother, Ryan, was in the Army at Fort Bragg, N.C., readying for 82nd Airborne jump school.

The Tinsleys were, Ryan said on the telephone Monday, "best friends." Close in age, they learned guitar together, played on baseball and wrestling teams together, were in Junior ROTC together at Chester High School.

"I always looked up to Logan," Ryan said. "Anything I did, he did it. He did something, I tried it, too."

After Logan's death, Ryan was told he could accept rear duty at his North Carolina Army post rather than shipping out with his unit.

"I was given the choice," Ryan said. "I went."

I asked Ryan if that's what Logan would have wanted. Ryan said immediately, "Probably not."

He paused only a second or two.

"I have to live up to the Tinsley name," Ryan Tinsley said.

Logan Tinsley, the day before he died, on Christmas, saved some of his own men. The guy called Doc saved at least two enemy combatants who were injured.

Logan once had to kill an insurgent just feet away.

Ryan won't discuss details of what he has had to do up in the north of Iraq, other than to say he works in communications. He has to jump out of airplanes. He did say, "I haven't had to kill anybody."

Yet, Ryan hasn't had a chance to go further south in Iraq to see the place where his brother and best friend died.

But now, Ryan Tinsley has a chance to relax for a few days. Hang out with his girlfriend, his buddies. Jam on electric guitar, just like he and Logan used to do.

"Couldn't wait for a Yoo-Hoo and an iced tea, cold," Ryan said. "And to see good green grass and trees again. It's great."

Ryan will see his grandmother who lives out in McConnells in western York County and the rest of the family. Christmas comes a few days early if your name is Fairfax or Tinsley or Cato.

Lori Tinsley already opened her gift. She hugged an Army son as he walked off a plane.

"It was the happiest day of my life," Lori Tinsley said of Ryan's return. "The only thing I wished he brought home with him was Logan."

Lori Tinsley has spent the last five months waiting. From the day she found out Logan had been killed, Lori never told Ryan what his path must be. Lori Tinsley always said the decision to go to Iraq was Ryan's.

She has spent time at a cabin in North Carolina not too far from Fort Bragg, called "Logan's Rest."

"What kind of person chooses to do what Ryan did after what happened to his brother,?" Lori Tinsley asked me. "I'll tell you what kind of person. My son, Ryan. He is the bravest man I ever met."

In a couple of weeks, before Christmas, a plane will leave North Carolina for Iraq with soldiers on it.

"I'm going back," Ryan said Monday.

Pfc. Tinsley, with a promotion and a birthday coming soon, won't say when his tour in Iraq will be over.

Ryan said he has tried not to live in his brother's shadow. After all these months in Iraq, the tough decisions and the heartbreak, it is clear Ryan Tinsley throws his own shadows.

And Ryan Tinsley is only 20 years old.

When your name is Tinsley from Chester, and your Army unit goes to Iraq, you go.

Lori Tinsley keeps one half of Logan Tinsley's military identification "dog tags," those metal tags soldiers wear on chains around their necks. In Ryan Tinsley's pocket is the other half of the dog tag.

It is not around his neck because paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne don't wear dog tags there. Always in the pocket. Tradition.

The name Logan Tinsley, stamped in metal, is with Ryan on leave and at war.

Please, Ryan. When it is all over, with Logan's name in your pocket, come back home to your mother.

Again, and forever.