Andrew Dys

A veteran of 2 wars, a father to the end

Lee Brooks' job required no description. In the Army, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Brooks was a sniper.

Snipers do one thing. Shoot the enemy, before the enemy shoots somebody on our side. That is what Lee Brooks did. For years, in two wars, in the words of his peers, "impeccably."

He survived Afghanistan before the truck he was riding on in Iraq in November 2004 was blown up. Brooks was such a hard guy, so committed to the young men who depended on him for survival, that he didn't come home to Fort Carson, Colo., until his men came home, too.

About six months later.

He came home with shrapnel in his leg and a back injury that needed metal plates to replace part of that back that was destroyed. He also had a traumatic brain injury, said his wife, and his mother, and so many more.

Then Thursday, as he waited to start a civilian life because his body could not be the soldier that he always wanted to be since he wore GI Joe clothes as a kid, the soldier he was in two wars, Lee Brooks died.

The family is waiting on autopsy results to find out exactly why Brooks died.

He was 26 years old.

He will be buried today in Rock Hill, where he grew up.

Brooks as a teen was a 150-pound wrestler at Northwestern High School, short but stout, tough and hard. A guy who joined the National Guard unit here in Rock Hill after graduating in 2001, then went on active duty to get in on the action.

He was a man who limped off a plane from Iraq, locked eyes with the stunning brunette standing next to Brooks' mother, and said, "I'm gonna marry that girl."

The girl was his best friend's sister. Brian Elmore, the best friend who had survived Iraq alongside Brooks, said this at the wedding as best man: "I trusted you with my life in Iraq. Now I'm trusting you with my sister's life. There is not a better man anywhere."

The injuries came after Brooks had completed a sniper mission.

"He always completed what he started," said his wife, now a young widow, named Krista.

The vehicle was hit by what military people call an improvised explosive device -- a bomb to you and me. His back would need two metal cages connected with two metal rods, all held together with six metal screws.

Some days, brutal pain. Other days, he could get around some. He had seizures from the brain injury, said his mother, Debbie Brooks.

But Brooks didn't miss the father-daughter dances on his Colorado post with a daughter, named Rylee.

"The first one, she was just a few months old," said Krista Brooks. "He held her up like a trophy."

Brooks earned the Purple Heart and the Meritorious Service Medal and more.

"He was not killed in combat, but Lee was a casualty of war," his mother said.

Lee Brooks was leaving the Army for medical reasons, his wife said, but was technically still on active duty on terminal leave. Last week, he was in Virginia Beach, training for a job managing a trucking company in Charlotte. Lee, Krista, and Rylee, 17 months old, had been in Charlotte just a week.

"We thought after he survived two wars, we had him back forever," said an aunt, Tammy Spencer. Spencer's son, Christopher, had one idol besides his own dad, Jeff -- Lee Brooks.

Wednesday night, from Virginia Beach, Brooks called his wife and daughter. Over the phone, he tucked his daughter in.

"Night, night," he said. "I love you, Rylee."

Rylee took the picture of her father, one in uniform, that she always has with her, and kissed it.

"Da-da, good night," she said.

Rylee closed her eyes and slept.

Then Staff Sgt. Lee Brooks, a man who gave all for his country, went to sleep. And he never woke up to see that daughter again.

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