How Brat pack 11 was born
By: Kenzie Rien
Who am I? What do I do? Why do I do it? I’ve told this story hundreds of times, but for new supporters of Brat Pack 11, this is how our Pack came to be. My name is Kenzie, I’m 22 years old, and I am the founder of this organization. At 11 years old, my father deployed to Afghanistan for a year. The intricate details of the day he left, what I was wearing, and how I was feeling still linger.
Minuscule details that you feel like you would easily forget seem to show themselves vividly. My sister was only five-years-old at the time and she didn’t quite understand what was happening. I remember pulling up to a brick building and walking past a group of Soldiers who were lugging around their giant green duffle bags. I remember guns being loaded up and white vans filled with men and women in uniform. I remember my heart feeling heavy and my stomach being in knots. I remember hiding secret notes in my dad’s bags for him to find later and giving him a handheld Playstation to keep him entertained. I remember trying not to cry because I didn’t want to freak out my little sister, but I still cried. I remember my dad surprising me with front row tickets to the Jonas Brothers concert so I would be distracted from my sadness. It helped, but not for long. I remember constantly looking at the clock because there was only so much time before he had to leave. I remember the smell of his uniform. I remember walking out to the front of the building with all of his bags and hugging him. It was that long kind of hug that you knew meant something more; something was different. But the thing I remember the most was him getting into this white van and taking one look back at us and waving goodbye. That was the moment my little sister absolutely lost it. That was the moment she began to wail and cry and scream. It was then and there that I told myself I had to put on a brave face. I tried to reassure her that it’s going to be okay and he’s going to come back soon.
My mother was always honest and explained to both of us that he would be gone for a while for work. The thing is, I don’t think Maddie really understood what that meant until he was waving goodbye in that van. I mean, how do you explain to a five-year-old that her dad is going to go fight in a war? You can’t, you don’t. There’s no good way to explain it. My mom told her that our dad was like a superhero and he was off to fight the bad guys.
If I am being truly honest, 2008-2009 was a blur. For the course of his deployment, my parents allowed us to pursue acting which was something that I had always wanted to do. I was lucky enough to have an outlet during a time filled with so much stress and anxiety. I had this amazing mother who refused to let us sulk even while dealing with her own stress of having a husband deployed. So, we threw everything we had into learning about the craft of acting. I recall taking acting classes and auditioning for commercials, and very specifically my 5th-grade crush, Alex. A lot of things come to mind when I think of that year, but I look back now and I wonder, how did we get through it? How did my mom get through it?
My dad used to call every couple of weeks if he could and I was always so anxious when he did. I was worried that I was going to miss his call and when I did, he would be forced to leave a voicemail. Those were painful to listen to because I missed him. When I did get to talk to him on the phone, I knew he could only talk for a little while. I was always so anxious that I wouldn’t say the right thing with the time I had on the phone. Honestly, it was easier for me to not talk to him. I missed my dad, and I wanted to hear from him, but it seemed to bring back that sadness we tried so hard to forget. I used to eavesdrop on my mom's phone calls with her friends and read her emails because I knew she was hiding things from me (to protect me of course). This is when I found out about CPT Rob Yllescas.
During my father's deployment, news spread that a Soldier he was deployed with, CPT Robert Yllescas, was injured by an IED. He eventually passed away in a hospital leaving behind two little girls, Julia and Eva. When I heard about what had happened, my heart broke for these two little girls who would never see their dad again. Even though I was very young and had very little to offer anyone, I had this overwhelming desire to do something to help these two girls. So I spoke to as many as adults and businesses that would listen to an eleven-year-old, and eventually raised enough money to grant the Yllescas girls a wish. This would be a story I would go on to tell hundreds, if not thousands, of times for the next 11 years. Although Brat Pack 11 has gone on to grant many wishes for children of wounded or fallen heroes, Julia and Eva have always held a special place in my heart. [A couple years ago, I re-granted them a wish since they were entering their tween and teenage years. Check out this blog here to see what their wish experience was this time around!]
Now here I am eleven years later, writing about how a cause was born out of something so unfathomable and gut-wrenching. How can something that happened over eleven years ago still bring up so many emotions? It does and it will forever weigh heavy on my heart. I think about all of the kids who have dealt with multiple deployments, lost their parent(s), or had a parent come home injured. I think about how lucky I am to have a dad that came home. He came home a changed man, but he came home. He will be here to see me grow and evolve into a woman. He will be there for many of my special moments. He will be around. I believe every human is put onto this Earth for a purpose and my purpose is to help my community of Military Brats. The number 11 follows me everywhere I go. No, really. I’ll see it on license plates, billboards, receipts, tickets, etc. all the time. I like to think it’s God reaffirming my purpose. I cannot change what has happened or even fill the void that losing a parent leaves behind, but I hope to let these kids know they aren’t alone. That they have a community that loves them, roots for them, and is here to give them an experience of a lifetime. We are a small organization, who relies solely on donations by people like you. If you feel compelled to donate, you can do so here. You can stay up-to-date with future wish grants by following us on social media here. Sending love and light to my fellow Military Brats.