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Military experiences of two local police officers bring them closer than family

Officer Brandon Sandrell and Officer Clayton Cates graduated from high school in the same county. That’s where their similarities begin and end…at least at the beginning of this story.
Officer Clayton Cates (above) and  Officer Brandon Sandrell (below)  both served with the 269th Military Police of the 101st Airborne Division, working to train the police force of Iraq. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
On the surface, neither seemed to have much in common, as they candidly fielded questions about their backgrounds from their office inside Frankin Police Department.
Sandrell, son of small business owners, has deep roots here, mostly rural. 
Cates, whose mother and father both had long careers in the Army, moved to Franklin his senior year and graduated from Centennial High School.
Sandrell, an ROTC kid in high school, says he “always knew” he would be in the military, especially after 9/11.
Cates, the elder of the two, said the social struggle of moving around a lot made him an academic student who was always drawn serving in law enforcement.
He was a student at MTSU when he decided to join the military.
Though both men chose to join the Army National Guard and both attended basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, the pair did not become friends even while serving in the same platoon at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
The paths of these two men were destined to cross, however, and from that moment on they learned the true meaning of brotherhood.
Just as the war in Iraq was unfolding, Sandrell and Cates were undergoing intense training with the 269th Military Police of the 101st Airborne Division.
The part-time position of the National Guard quickly became a full-time overseas deployment for both men.
Baghdad by night
Once in Iraq, Sandrell and Cates were handed the same assignment—train the future police force of the war-torn country’s capital city.
By day, they trained men of a different language and culture. 
By night, they patrolled in outfitted Humvees in an uncertain, dangerous arena.
Almost two years to the day of the catastrophic event that propelled these young men into military service, they were traveling together in a convoy at night. 
Sandrell was the driver, Cates the gunner.
A single grenade launched by an angry youth catapulted these two men into an event that all the training in the world cannot prevent.
It wasn’t exactly a split second, more like fifteen seconds that Sandrell had to react when he sited a pothole in the road that changed his life forever.
“I saw what was coming up,” Cates interjected. “I was wearing night vision goggles. I just didn’t have time…”
Sandrell snapped his finger as his friend, colleague and brother retold the series of events.
“It was like that,” he said of the little forewarning he had that an I.E.D. was about to discharge, blowing his vehicle off the road and shattering his body.
The fight that ensued involved Cates unlocking his machine gun and taking on the aggressors alone, as the two men had been separated from their convoy.
Ultimately, back-up arrived and Medivac rescued them both.
The journey to recovery for Sandrell was intense, 13 surgeries in three months, months of hospitalization at Walter Reed Army Hospital and subsequent rehabilitation at Fort Campbell.
For Cates, the physical damage involved sustaining a second concussion from his second firefight in just a few weeks.
Both were given medical discharges from the Army, but not before they were commended for their duty with the esteemed Purple Heart.
Fast-forward ten years later, these two gentlemen, both married with children of their own, are colleagues and friends.
They are officers of a city police department where night time patrol may involve the split-second, hair raising, adrenaline rush one might expect from a war-town city, but they are in an affluent suburban community in the South.
The level of camaraderie they share can only be expressed one way, Sandrell says.
“We are like brothers.”

Posted on: 11/9/2013


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