Eric Brodersen served in the Kansas National Guard’s 891st Engineer Battalion, with headquarters in Iola, when he served three tours of duty.
He joined the National Guard in 2002, then served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, and again from 2007 to 2008. He also served in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, and left the service in 2014.
After that, he worked on the road as a pipe fitter for oil refineries.
But everything changed two years ago.
He and his wife, Sheradin, were driving to the beach at Galveston on a sunny day when they hit a patch of water on the road during a brief rain shower. Their Jeep hydroplaned and crashed, leaving them both paralyzed.
Eric is now Sheradin’s caregiver, and they both use wheelchairs. They previously lived in Cherryvale but moved to Coweta, Okla.
“We have our ups and downs,” Eric said. “It’s been pretty crazy but we’re figuring it out.”
A few months ago, mutual friends introduced Eric to Sgt. Leon Smith, who had also served with the 891st and recently returned from a deployment. Smith, who is from the local area and now lives in Chanute, was recovering from an injury himself.
Smith became familiar with an organization called Op1Vet, run by Ed Christner of Goshen, Ind. Op1Vet sells patriotic clothing and other items, with proceeds going to help disabled veterans. Their mission is “To change the life of one veteran at a time.”
Op1Vet had worked with Smith, providing him with a helicopter hog hunt in Texas.
Smith wanted to “pay it forward” and help other veterans. When he heard about the Brodersens, he saw an opportunity to help.
Smith and Op1Vet teamed up and developed a plan to provide a Trackchair all-terrain wheelchair to Eric. The wheelchair can be raised to a standing position or lowered for sitting. Veterans do not need to be injured in combat to qualify, Christner said.
Working with Christner, Smith and volunteers organized numerous local fundraisers, including a cornhole tournament and a dance at Piqua. The wheelchairs typically cost around $15,000.
On Saturday, Christner and his crew from Op1Vet traveled to the Allen County Regional Airport to present the Trackchair to Eric. Smith organized the event, which coincided with a fly-in of war-era planes.
“This community came together like no other,” Christner said. “Every one of you who were a part of it, we salute you.”
Eric said he and Sheradin will likely share the wheelchair, and it will be particularly useful on their new farm.
“They asked me what I’m going to do with it. Honestly, I’m probably going to do some yard work,” he said.
Major General Lee E. Tafanelli, former Kansas Adjutant General and commander of the 891st during Brodersen’s first deployment, also spoke at the ceremony.
Tafanelli motioned to the warplanes behind him, and one roared overhead with a loud “whoosh” as he spoke.
“This is what freedom looks like. And that’s the sound of freedom.”
Tafanellli continued, praising the community and the fundraising efforts to help the Brodersens.
“Eric was one of our outstanding soldiers,” he said. “While he did have a life-changing event back in 2020, today is also a life-changing event. This new piece of equipment will open up opportunities most of us take for granted each and every day.”
Clara Boyd, a native of Moran, sang the National Anthem. Smith and Christner also handed out several awards to those who helped with fundraising events.