Anthony Brady was 19 when he was stationed at an Army base in Hawaii. He was preparing for a deployment to Iraq, but never lived to see his ship-out date. Anthony was killed during a military training exercise just weeks before his deployment.

“He had been on night maneuvers in a very hilly area, and it was just a freak accident,” says his mother, Preston Hollow resident Janet Brady. “I’ll never understand that part of it, but in these situations, you just try to make the most sense of it you can.”

For Brady, that meant staying connected to her son’s fellow soldiers.

“His unit left for Iraq without him, and he considered them his brothers, and therefore so did I,” she says. “Before my son died, I had been sending packages to him and others in his battalion, and he would tell me how much those soldiers appreciated it. After he died, I wanted to continue sending those soldiers packages because I felt in some small way, this could be his legacy. I tried to think of what he would want me to do.”

Taking action also helped Brady cope with her loss, she says.

“It was very therapeutic for me, and it still is. My goal initially was to just adopt out his battalion, but then I realized how many of these soldiers have no family or support back home, and I felt like I had to do something to help.”

Brady was inspired to start Adopt A Soldier Now, a program that connects civilians with deployed soldiers who have no family. Once a person sponsors a soldier, he or she sends them monthly care packages and letters.

Lt. Col. Joseph Connell, who was in charge of Anthony’s battalion, says the initial packages that Brady sent to him and his troops in Iraq meant a lot.

“There were 600 soldiers in my battalion and each of them received care packages regularly,” he says. “Anytime someone you don’t know takes the time to put together a care package for you and send it on their own dime, it’s a humbling experience.”

Since then, more than 16,000 soldiers have been sponsored through the program, and Brady says she expects that number to grow by leaps and bounds because Adopt A Soldier Now is expanding: “We have a volunteer helping us in East Texas and volunteers in Pennsylvania and California.”

Brady, a senior flight attendant for American Airlines, says in some cases she has arranged for soldiers and their sponsors to meet.

“If they have a layover in Dallas, a lot of times the soldier’s sponsors will come up to the airport to meet them and take them out to dinner,” she says.

In all, Brady says there are seven where Brady came to visit him.

“I walked in, and there was this 20-year-old kid with his whole life ahead of him, and in an instant, he was paralyzed,” she says. “I looked in his eyes, and I saw my son.”

Burleson also had a pregnant wife and a young daughter to care for, whom Brady also met that day.

“I instantly connected with his wife and family,” she says. “I just knew I had to do something to help this family. I just kept thinking how unacceptable this was and that this country could do better than this for our veterans.”

So Brady raised more than $300,000 for the Burlesons and had a handicap-accessible home built for them in their hometown, Springhill, La.

“I have been astounded by the desire people have to get involved,” she says. “They don’t want this to be another Vietnam, where soldiers are disgraced once they return from war. Adopt A Soldier Now is not a stand for or against war. These soldiers are America’s sons and daughters, regardless of political affiliations. This is not about the politics of war; it’s just about helping people.”

Brady says she also takes comfort knowing her son’s spirit lives on in these good deeds.

“I think each of us want to know that our life has meaning and purpose, and I feel like my son passed the battalion to me when he died,” she says. “This is how I’m honoring my son, and I feel like through me his life had a profound impact on others.”

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