Fire Capt. Brandon Wright would much prefer to be in the back of a room during any social gathering, leaned against the wall with a Coke in one hand and the other in his pocket, watching a party go on around him, than in the limelight.
On Thursday, Wright was the center of attention, though he still lingered near the door as much as possible. The Mokelumne Rural Fire Protection District held a hot dog lunch in his honor just a few days before Wright is due to serve his country overseas.
Wright, 35, leaves next Sunday for a year-long tour of duty as a flight engineer with the B Company First 126 Aviation unit. It will be his second time in Afghanistan, and his third deployment in his nine years with the Guard.
"Whenever they call, you go," he said.
Fire district staff, their families and even San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel joined Wright for lunch at the station. The district serves the Lockeford and Victor area.
Wright lives in Clements with his wife, Erin, his 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twin boys.
One fire science class at Lodi High School was enough to pique his interest in firefighting as a career. He joined the fire district as an explorer in 1995, when he was barely 18 years old. That program was one step below a volunteer firefighter, and Wright has worked his way up the ranks since.
He also works with San Joaquin County as a forensic fire investigator.
Wright appreciates the support he has received from family, friends and coworkers who understand the sacrifices he is making.
"People have been really great," he said.
He'll be working with the same unit he deployed with on his first tour in Iraq. Wright works on Chinook helicopters, which ferry soldiers and supplies in and out of battle zones as needed.
The department was shocked to hear Wright had been deployed again. But there was no question as to whether he would go.
"He will be leaving a large void here until he returns," said Fire Chief Micheal Kirkle, calling Wright one of the most dedicated people on his staff.
"We certainly appreciate him and his commitment, and wish him a safe deployment," Kirkle said.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.