Zack Brackett: A hero here and there

Tom KingBlount, Our Town Heroes

From Tellico Plains to the remote Paktika Province in southeastern Afghanistan and a Purple Heart for a Blount County Sheriff’s Office deputy. This East Tennessee hero is Zachary Brackett.

On his Blount County patrol beat, he works accidents, responds to a variety of emergencies and drug overdoses, and has saved a woman’s life. Here’s how a co-worker describes him: “…. He humbly serves his community and shows up on each shift with a fantastic attitude.”

Zack Brackett

In the hills of Paktika, some 7,200 miles from home, he fought the Taliban up close from June 2013 to January 2014 in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division. A suicide truck bomb, estimated to be between 3,000 and 6,000 pounds of plastic explosives, blew him off his guard tower. He landed on his back atop a pile of concertina barbed wire.

Brackett is 28 now. He was only 19 when the bomb exploded on Sept. 13, 2013. His injuries included the loss of a chunk of muscle from his right calf, a splinter of wood that lodged in his nose, shrapnel embedded below his left eye, injuries to his right arm, six ruptured discs that has led to degenerative disc disease, and arthritis in his lower back. He also suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). When he came home, he did not think he had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). But an Army doctor did. His medical discharge on May 28, 2015, as a Specialist/E-4 was due to his back injuries.

“I struggled for a couple of years when I got out and got home,” he says. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. Until my injuries I’d planned on making the Army a career. But what happened to me changed my mind. He eventually worked at a Home Depot for two years. “It was good, but after two years I felt like something was missing.”

Brackett said surviving two to three attacks a day by the Taliban messed him up along with other fellow fighters as well. Then he rattled off this: “… You fight ‘til you run out of bullets … rockets came in … machine guns … We were attached to a Green Beret unit … I wondered how I survived this … They always attacked at dusk and dawn … We didn’t fight at night. We could see but they couldn’t … All nine guys in my squad made it home.”

And he was only 19 and just two years out of high school.

What was missing in his life, he realized, was the kind of work that resembled the Army – a “workplace where you have bonds between brothers.” That led him into law enforcement work in Blount County. He joined the Sheriff’s Office three years ago. “Many young boys grow up wanting to be a cop. That was not me. But now I love it. I enjoy doing selfless work. I get to talk to and meet people and the people I work with here are awesome. It feels great making a difference in someone’s life here.”

He’s been a patrol deputy for three years and currently works the 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift.

Has he ever used his weapon? “Well, not in this job anyway,” he said. “I have had to pull it out a few times.”

On the night of Oct. 23, 2020, he and partner Bryan Kavney responded to a call about a woman who was unconscious in her bedroom and had not been breathing for 15 minutes. “I started doing CPR on her and when Bryan got there we switched out working on her. It took the ambulance around 30 minutes to get to us. When they got her to Blount Memorial she had a pulse and she survived.”

BCSO honored both heroes with its Life Saving Award.

Wife Danielle, a native of Mt. Juliet, is the assistant manger of the Olive Garden at Turkey Creek. She and family and friends helped Zack celebrate his 28th birthday on the night of Saturday, October 16. He has one outside job – working sideline security at Neyland Stadium for UT’s football games. “Yep, I missed the excitement of the Ole Miss game,” he said. “My party was a lot more fun.”

Football was part of his high school experience as a member of the Tellico Plains Bears football team. At 6-3, he was a tight end and linebacker. Away from his BCSO work he relaxes by deer hunting and fishing for Tellico River trout.

He’s a lucky young man to come home alive with the injuries he sustained. He also says he has no lingering PTSD or post-war problems. Why not and how? “My honest best guess is God. When we first got back I struggled a little but I stopped drinking alcohol and started talking to my buddies about it. I prayed hard for help and it’s never been a problem since then.”

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at tking535@gmail.comor call him at 865-659-3562.

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