The phrase “service with a smile” brings to mind the philosophy of many a fast-food restaurant. While it may be a cliché, we all need to go about our daily duties with a happy attitude and thoughtfulness toward others. This came to mind recently when I reconnected with a young military man serving our country. In a few weeks, Eric Brattain will be deployed to Afghanistan – a soldier who combines a determined, driven personality with a sense of playfulness and optimism.

Eric Brattain. Photo by JJ Kaplan
Eric Brattain. Photo by JJ Kaplan

Brattain, son of David and Jill Brattain, Whitestown, and grandson of Jo Ann Keen, Zionsville, grew up with a sense of serving others. Eric’s animal-loving mom had always dreamed of running her own kennel. In 1989, she opened Zionsville Country Kennel, which later became a hub of animal care including Zionsville Country Veterinary Clinic, dog training, and a grooming salon. The kennel required all hands on deck from the Brattain family. Hard work was instilled in, and required of, each family member to ensure the animals were well-cared for. Every day on the job, Eric learned more about animals, and developed a strong work ethic.

It’s difficult to have a bad day in Eric’s presence. Eric described himself during his teen years as being a “goofball.” While he knew the limits, he tested those boundaries with strong self-confidence and love of life. He is an eternal optimist who sees the good in others, and reaches out to make a difference in their lives. He doesn’t judge; he seeks to understand.

While in high school, Eric became interested in mechanics, and soon became obsessed with working on cars. He invested time and finances in building his own custom muscle-car.
I had the pleasure of riding in his souped-up, eight-cylinder, 500 horsepower Trans Am named “Rachel.” As a middle-aged adult, I tried to maintain my middle-aged adult composure during the ride. But, I couldn’t help but giggle – and neither could Eric. When he drives he looks like a kid in a candy store with a huge grin etched on his young, unlined face.

After graduating high school in 2009, Eric was bored with his life, apartment, and routine. He walked into a U.S. Army recruiter’s office, and left with signed papers to enlist. With the possibilities and excitement that the Army offered, it sounded like a fun thing to do.

Eric explained that you arrive at your Basic Combat Training Unit with only the clothes on your back. Everything else is issued to you. Three of the four days were spent without sleep. Many enlistees cracked and couldn’t pass this first test of endurance. He noted that it’s now more difficult to be accepted into the Army, and that the Army is striving to be a positive representative of our country.

Having an affinity for mechanics, Eric’s entry exam illustrated a remarkable aptitude for problem-solving and general maintenance knowledge. He enlisted for three years and 26 weeks as a 91B Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic. Eric graduated in the top ten percent of his enlistee class, and progressed to a specialty job reserved for the most trusted and knowledgeable professionals. He currently is fulfilling two high-priority positions.

The vehicles Eric works with are complex, some with parts that are classified.

Eric Brattain. Photo by JJ Kaplan

Some vehicles weigh in excess of 70,000 pounds and are capable of pulling houses off their foundations with ease. His job is to fix all wheeled vehicles provided by the Army. He also retrieves the blown-up, mangled heaps of metal damaged by enemy insurgents, many times while under fire. It’s imperative these vehicles are recovered and not fall into the wrong hands.

While Eric is eligible for discharge next spring, he’s already re-enlisted. He’s excited to end his leave in the States and to be deployed to Afghanistan. Brattain will receive a promotion to Corporal in charge of Maintenance Operations, Recovery Operations, and Platoon Communications for the duration of his deployment.

Brattain explained that even when home on leave, he’s never truly relaxed. Our mundane environment does not hold the same challenges for Eric as does the thrill of combat. He is planning a career in the Army and absolutely loves the exhilaration and purpose it offers. Eric is no longer a gangly goofball teen, but a steely soldier that has found his way in serving our county as his call of duty.

At age 22, Eric believes he’s already lived an amazing life, and has nearly completed his “bucket list.” In the civilian world, he is just an average Joe. In the Army, he’s a force to be reckoned with. His internal compass focuses on discipline and drive: discipline of knowing when to talk and when to listen; drive to fight for our country with a passion, and without question. The Army is not just a paycheck, it is his livelihood. Eric is somebody with a burning desire to make a difference. And, when he leaves the Army, he’ll do so with marketable, life-long skills as a vehicle mechanic.

This article was written about one soldier. It’s also a tribute to the many families with loved ones who serve our country. Please take a moment to support, thank, remember, or pray for someone in uniform and their family. We all reap immeasurable benefit from the hard work and dedication of countless women and men in uniform. We extend our sincere gratitude for your service to our country and community.

To follow Eric and his adventures, visit him on Facebook at

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