Written by Jets Chairman Robert Wood Johnson
"Every Veterans Day, Americans proudly honor those who have worn the uniform on behalf of our country. For Bryan Dilberian's family, and mine, this year's commemoration will be a somber one. On October 1, Bryan, a 36-year-old retired Army specialist who served in Afghanistan, passed away. His family lost a brother, an uncle, and a son. I lost a friend. And our country lost a hero. His passing is a sobering reminder that all Americans must support the current and former members of our military who have made profound sacrifices for our country.
"I first met Bryan in 2015. Because of life-altering injuries sustained from an IED blast in Afghanistan, Bryan wore prosthetics on both legs and his left arm. It would be easy for someone in that condition to shut themselves out from the world. But – consistent with his unflagging enthusiasm for life – what could have been a barrier became a way for Bryan to build relationships. Our conversations about his injuries morphed into deep discussions about football and life.
"My family was proud to partner with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to provide Bryan with a fully-customized, mortgage-free smart home, designed to make everyday tasks possible for veterans who return from service with severe physical injuries or disabilities. This house gave Bryan more than a place to live. It also gave him freedom and autonomy, which he maximized to the fullest. Said Bryan, "When I came back to life I made sure I was going to do things with my injuries no one has done before." He sure did. His obituary recounts his love of traveling, fishing, bowling, and darts. In 2018, Bryan even rode a customized motorcycle from Brooklyn to Sturgis, South Dakota – the site of the most famous motorcycle rally in America every year.
"My family continued to keep in touch with Bryan and his family throughout the years. He allowed us the privilege of honoring him at a Jets game. His presence honored us, too: My two sons, Brick and Jack, were able to learn what he had been through and why it mattered. Though they were initially unsure how to respond to him, his infectious optimism helped them come out of their shells. This opportunity to learn about the heart of a hero was a moment my sons will never forget. In an era when fewer than 10 percent of Americans have served in the military, we need more of these kinds of poignant interactions between veterans and the civilian community. They are essential for fostering an understanding of all that our troops have given to defend our freedoms."
See all of the top photos of the military festivities at the Salute to Service game on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.