Brett J. Petriken – Staff Sergeant, United States Army

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
No. 376-03
May 28, 2003

Staff Sergeant Brett J. Petriken, 30, of Michigan, and Private Kenneth A. Nalley, 19, of Hamburg, Iowa, were killed on May 26, in As Samawah, Iraq.  The soldiers were escorting a convoy in a HMMWV when a heavy equipment transporter crossed the median and struck their vehicle.  Both soldiers were assigned to the 501st Military Police Company, Wiesbaden, Germany.  The incident is under investigation.

Family, friends razz, remember their hero
Monday, June 2, 2003

Mundy Township, Michigan – Staff Sergeant Brett Petriken's friends razzed him about being colorblind.

They invented drinking games based on his inability to distinguish colors. He usually lost.

The burly football player once wore pink jeans to school – a blissfully-unaware victim of a laundry mishap with a red sweatshirt. The colorblindness also squelched a childhood dream of becoming a police officer in civilian life.

But Petriken, 30, who was killed on Memorial Day in Iraq, persevered and deflected the jokes with an infectious smile and giggle, friends said during a memorial service attended by about 350 people Sunday at Swartz Funeral Home.

“He was a guy who knew how to get the most of out of life,” friend Craig Center, 31, eulogized. “He died as he lived: honorably and with dignity.”

Petriken of Flint died in a traffic accident in As Samawah, Iraq, weeks after his 501st Military Police Unit of the 1st Armored Division arrived in the country. His Humvee was escorting a convoy when it was struck by a heavy-equipment transporter that crossed a median. Private Kenneth A. Nalley, 19, of Hamburg, Iowa, also died in the crash.

A graveside service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sunday's memorial was equal parts heroic tribute, rock concert and solemn remembrance as loved ones recounted Petriken's military pride, questioned why God took him away from his wife, Christina, and daughter, Rhiannon, and played his favorite tune, Tesla's “Love Song.”

The sound of guitars and drums also filled the room as mourners listened to the Foo Fighters song “My Hero,”and the lyrics, “There goes my hero, watch him as he goes…”

Keri Garcia, 30, said Petriken was a reliable childhood friend who offered a shoulder to cry on and rides in his old Chevette.

“Brett was the older, protective brother I never had and sometimes didn't want,” she said. “He knew all the right things to say.”

Petriken's family lined a front row at the funeral home, facing posters filled with family photos, a giant picture of Petriken in his Flint Southwestern High School football jersey, and a folded American flag.

Mourners also watched a videotape chronicling Petriken's life, including baby photos and wedding snapshots, set to the tune of James Taylor's “Fire and Rain.”

“I loved him dearly,” friend Tim Melaragni, 30, said. “I'm going to miss him very much.”

Petriken's colorblindness was an initial setback, but he joined the Army in 1991 and became a military policeman.

He later focused on a second life goal: starting a family, which he did three years later.

“He was complete,” Center said, removing his eyeglasses to dab at tears.

Despite a nomadic career that included stops in Cuba, Panama and Germany, Petriken made time for friends, with whom he liked to reminisce, drink beer and watch sports.

Petriken's death has taught his friend Center a lesson.

“Live each day to the fullest and, more than anything, love each other every day of your life,” he said. “Rest well, Brett. You've earned it. You are a hero.”

“Taps” played softly as mourners filed out of the funeral home.

Memorial contributions can be made to a scholarship fund for Brett Petriken's daughter, Rhiannon, through the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 W. Hill Road, Flint, MI 48507.


  • DATE OF DEATH: 05/26/2003




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