Service With Purpose: Son of Purple Heart Combat Vet Enlists to ‘Bring Dads Home to Their Families’

  • Published
  • By Staff Sergeant Colin Hollowell
  • Air Force Recruiting Service

It was a hazy November day in southern Afghanistan. A calm field to their left elicited conflicting feelings of worry. The silence is temporarily broken, “Oh, I really don’t like this,” one soldier muttered. No responses were required, their lack of comeback symbolized their acquiescence. The 47 men marched along the drainage ditch, feeling the leaves and shale crunching beneath their boots, each step carefully calculated. An abrupt bang extinguished the distressing stillness. A cloud of dust rapidly robbed them of the sun's radiance. Those who weren’t thrown to the dirt had hit the deck with the same haste. “Everyone alright?” Doc Moon called out. “Is anybody hurt?” A few called back, “All good,” as the dust started to settle. “I’m hurt Doc, I’m right in front of you,” groaned Staff Sgt. Ross Cox. “It’s my leg.” Doc Moon walked forward six feet, acutely aware of the possibility of a second improvised explosive device awaiting his hurried response. Doc Moon only needed an initial glance to recognize the severity of the injuries. “We need a medevac!” he yelled. “We’ve got an amputation.”

On Nov. 15, 2011, U.S. Army infantryman, Staff Sgt. Ross Cox stepped on an IED while leading a mission presence patrol during his third tour to Afghanistan. The blast from the IED resulted in the complete amputation of his foot and severely fractured his other leg. Doc Moon, the platoon’s combat medic, swiftly rendered lifesaving medical care to Ross’s injuries while awaiting a medical evacuation from the battlefield. “I was loaded onto the helicopter, and they took me out of the battlefield to Kandahar, then to Bagram Airfield, then to Germany,” said Ross. “After Germany, they took me straight to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. That’s where my medical journey really started.”

As Ross arrived at Brooke Army Medical Hospital to undergo a series of surgeries, his wife and children were preparing to make the 4,000-mile trek from their current duty station in Alaska to Texas. Ross’s son recalled the day that his mom told him and his siblings that their father had been in an accident. “I remember my mom telling us he was in an accident and my mind went straight to a vehicle accident,” said Brennan. “I was just a kid so I was thinking they hit something with a Humvee or something minor, but when I saw my mom crying on the stairs I realized it was serious.”

Brennan, who was only eight years old when his father was injured in combat, grew up immersed in the military culture. He was always enamored with the structure and uniformity of the people and buildings on the numerous installations where he spent much of his childhood. His admiration for the military lifestyle quickly developed as he watched his dad leave for work in his uniform every morning.

“When Brennan was young he would get up on Saturday mornings wearing his child-size uniform and tell me to go put on my uniform so we could go to the chow hall,” said Ross. “He always wanted to go to the chow hall for breakfast.”

Brennan chuckled as he recalled his uniform. “I had all the little patches and my name tapes,” said Brennan. “I even had a little rucksack that I would throw on and walk up and down the sidewalk while he was at work. I’d put all of my uniform on with that ruck and march up and down the street waiting for him to get home.” Ross would come home from work where he would be greeted by Brennan saying, “Alright dad, time to go to work!”

As Brennan reminisced on those childhood memories of wearing the uniform with his dad and sharing those military moments, he realized the irony of those stories. “It all came full circle,” he said. On Nov. 14, 2023, Brennan swore into the U.S. Air Force and shipped off to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, right down the road from Brooke Army Medical Center where he and his dad spent nearly three years following the IED injury.

Two weeks after Ross was admitted into the San Antonio military hospital, Brennan and his siblings were finally able to see him. “We went into this giant hospital, and I just remember there being so many injured service members as we made our way to my dad’s room,” said Brennan. “When I finally got to see him, his leg was in an elevated sling and he turned and saw me he started to tear up a little and his first words were “‘What’s up buddy?’”

Brennan spent a considerable amount of time with his dad in the hospital during his nearly three years of recovery. “Brennan got to experience a lot of the medical professionals who helped me,” said Ross. “I think seeing that had an impact on him.”

His dad was right, the prevalence of the medical staff had quite a bit of influence on Brennan, but there was one that he felt exceptionally thankful for. “I knew all of my dad’s medical staff and they were his lifeline,” said Brennan. “But I remember when I got to meet Doc Moon and tell him “‘Thank you for bringing my dad home.’”

Brennan said that having his father brought home after suffering injuries in a combat zone, along with the combined influence of all of his dad’s medical team, called him to enlist as a medical professional in the Air Force. “Someone brought my dad back home,” Brennan said. “I want to bring parents home to their kids.”

Brennan’s passion for serving despite his father’s injuries represents his commitment to his country and his family. Ross stated that he is exceptionally proud of Brennan’s decision, but he was always very careful to not unfairly push military service onto his children. “This isn’t about me, I never wanted this to be about my service,” said Ross. “I never wanted to pressure or influence Brennan into serving, I wanted him to decide his own path, but I am incredibly proud of his decision to serve his country.” Ross and Brennan continue the legacy of a family rooted in service, having ancestors who served in every major conflict since the Civil War.

“I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am for the military and everything it's done for my family,” said Brennan. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to pay that back, to protect and preserve human life for future generations.”