ST. PETERSBURG - Cedric Gordon loves all four of his children, but, he shared a special bond with his youngest daughter ever since she was little.
"I think we are alike. She is competitive I am competitive. She likes to win. I like to win," said Gordon, who is the Assistant Chief of the St. Petersburg Police Department.
His beautiful Brittany. Who moved back in with her dad, so he could help her train for the U.S. Army.
"I think Brittany was doing what she loved," Chief Gordon said.
A job that cost her, her life. A suicide bomber managed to get close enough to Gordon, an army intelligence specialist. She wasn't even supposed to be in Kandahar City for the assignment. Chief Gordon said his daughter volunteered for the mission.
"That doesn't necessarily anger me that she was killed by a suicide bomber. I cant say that angers me you know war is evil. War is evil just evil," said Chief Gordon.
For four days after she died he couldn't even bear to look at her pictures. Now, he reads every letter she ever wrote him. He shared one excerpt that put a smile on his face. It read in part,
"Dad, here I am the APG-assistant platoon guy. You know kind of like you-an assistant leader, LOL. Laughing out loud.
"That was her sense of humor. She made me laugh," said the chief.
He never imagined one of these letters would be her last.
"I would say what are the chances of this happening to Brittany? The chances I thought were pretty slim and that is how I would give myself comfort. She is in this elite unit. She is in intel. She is not going to be doing anything dangerous. I don't mean to be gender biased but she is a female too. What are the chances of her being out and being put in serious harms way?" asked the Chief.
But he learned just three days before she died in a 34 minute conversation he had with his daughter that she was "crossing the wire" meaning she left the safety of her camp and volunteered for missions that put her in harm's way. Brittany was the 22nd woman killed since the war in Afghanistan began 11 years ago. A high number, but there have been thousands of men who died defending the country.
"She doesn't look at gender, if it can be done , I can do it. That is her attitude," said the chief.
And now, Chief Gordon has a renewed commitment: He's protected citizens in his community for 33 years rising to the ranks as one of three assistant chiefs in the department after beginning as a cadet. As he contemplates retirement, his focus will broaden. He will dedicate his life he said to our military. Two of his surviving children are still serving, one in the army the other in the airforce.
"I think as a country and as a nation we should be doing everything humanly possible to protect the men and woman protecting us. "We should have the best military equipment, the best armor,
the best helmets, the best weapons, the very best of everything," he said.
And while he's not sure how he will accomplish that, he's confident, despite this burning question
"I was asking God, why Brittany?" he said.
He knows, the winning team of the two of them have made a difference. Fathers from across the country are reaching out to him.
"One father said to me, Cedric you made me cry. I hadn't talked to my daughter in a long time. In fact, I called all three of my daughters and told them I loved them. Another guy I know said I have been having a tough relationship with my daughter I m going reconnect with her," said the chief.
And the chief tells them, make sure to do so,
"Because you never know when you won't have the opportunity again," said the chief his voice catching.
ENTIRE INTERVIEW WITH ASSISTANT ST. PETERSBURG POLICE CHIEF CEDRIC GORDON
Sarina: Tell us about Brittany Did she always want to join the military.
Chief Gordon: Brittany was determined. In 2010 she decided to enlist. I think Brittany was doing what she loved. I know how dedicated and committed she was. I know how competitive she was and I think she is the type if young lady who thinks if anyone can do it. I can do it make lo middle about it. She doesn't look at gender, of it can be done , I can do it. That is her attitude.
When she decided to enlist, she needed to lose some weight. So, she moved back in with me and I helped her train. I was just so proud of her.
Sarina: It sounds like the two of you had an incredible bond.
Chief Gordon: We did. I have four children, but I think we are alike. She is competitive I am competitive. She likes to win. I like to win
She trusted with me with everything. She trusted my opinions. She called me about every major decision she had to make. She was my heart. She was my soul. We would always end our phone calls with dad I love you and and I would tell her I love you more Brittany.
Sarina: How did you learn what happened to your daughter?
Chief Gordon: I knew Brittany was over there in Afghanistan and I knew she was involved in a war. It probably crossed my mind daily especially when I got home and got relaxed.
I am sitting here right on the couch and look out the window and I would reflect. I would think about that. I would think about it often. I hope I would never see a stranger come up to my front door with a military uniform because I knew what that would mean. I knew that would mean something serious happened to her or the ultimate sacrifice which would be the death notification. I worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years and I have had to do a few of those myself and the difference is there would be no other reason. For a police man to come to your house there could be any reason, any reason. Sometimes they could be doing a neighborhood check. But I knew there would be no other reason for a stranger to come to my front door with a military uniform but to deliver bad news.
I was not home at the time. I was out of town in Miami. I am sitting at the waiting area, actually I was at Tire Kingdom and I had just sat down. My phone rang and I looked at the number and it was a strange number. But it was a 678 area code and thought it was Georgia. I had a ton of relatives in Georgia, and I thought maybe someone is calling me about something. But I immediately knew when I heard the gentleman's voice it was somebody serious by the tone. He said is this Mr Cedric Gordon? I said yes and I said who is this because I could tell they were very serious and he said the is Master Sgt. Jordon and he said I am at your front door I am at your house and when he said that...(Chief Gordon broke up at this point, he shook his head and started to cry. I waited for him to resume.)
Sarina: I know this is difficult. At this point in your heart, did you know?
Chief Gordon: Yes, I knew that something bad had happened to Brittany. I grabbed the phone, I walked out outside, I kept asking him very matter of factly is there something wrong with Brittany? Is Brittany ok? He said sir where are you? And I said I am out of town and he said that is what I need to talk to you about we need to come to where you are. I kept asking him. He would never tell me over the phone he kept saying we need to come to where you are. I couldn't talk any longer.
The person I was with grabbed the phone and got information from him. The next person I called was my brother, Thomas who is in the military. I said I think something really bad has happened to Brittany but I don't know what. But he couldn't understand me. My friend Al and Goliath Davis (former St. Pete Police Chief) immediately got on the internet. His wife got the internet and we knew where she was she was in Kandahar City and we knew what her job title was. Intel specialist. We surmised based on what we got off the internet about the suicide bomber in Kandahar City and and an intel service member had been killed, and when they said service member it usually means a female. I knew there were not that many females in that unit. Still I did not know specifically. They came to Miami but by that time I had all sorts of people calling me. I got the information around 6 pm but they actually told me themselves at around 10 pm, but by then I already knew. Even though people were trying to comfort me and friends were saying maybe she broke her leg but I said they don't come to your house. I knew.
Sarina: I know it must be very difficult to go back to those first few days.
Chief Gordon: It was a whirlwind. I came back here packed my clothes. I went to Philadelphia and they drove us to Dover, Delaware where they were bringing Brittany.
While I was in Dover I met the family of Sergeant Robert Billings. He is a 30 year old. He too was killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber. It was dark in the middle night when the bodies came in. It was so dark out there. It was dark solemn, I'll never forget it. I watched Sgt. Billings wife cry uncontrollable. I watched his mother cry and at the time didn't know he had 4 children, but a girl and a boy were with us. And the whole family, they cried, they cried and they cried and they cried. We finally got to the tarmac and they would not get off the tarmac. They just cried and cried and cried and they cried and they cried and they cried some more. At that moment, at that moment in time, I grieved for that family. I just felt so hurt for them at that point
Just witnessing all of that cut me to the core. It makes you think about what is important in life and they were hurting just as much as my family. For that moment I forgot about myself. I watched these kids, this mother and this widow. It is something I will never forget.
Sarina: I realize, whenever anyone enlist, there is risk. But because Brittany was an intel specialist. Did you think she was mostly shielded to actual combat?
Chief Gordon: Yes, I would say what are the chances of this happening to Brittany? The chances I thought were pretty slim and that is how I would give myself comfort. She is in this elite unit. She is in intel. She is not going to be doing anything dangerous and also I don't mean to
be gender biased but she is a female too. What are the chances of her being out there and being put in serious harms way.
That was my thinking before she told me Thursday, the Thursday before she died that that she was going out on missions. If you talk to any female soldier they will tell you they are very careful about sending them out. I don't feel she had to out and do this. She said she was volunteering. As a matter of fact in our last conversation she had said, dad I have been going on so many that I probably will get in trouble. The commander probably won't let me go out on any any more because I have been going out on so many missions, they are not going to let me go on anymore. That was the type of person she was. Gender did not matter. If it could be done. She would do it.
Sarina: Does something like this cause you to question faith?
Chief Gordon: Yes, I kept asking why did it happen to Brittany? Why did it happen to me? To my daughter? And as I thought about it, I do not want to say this in a derogatory way but what if this had been a another soldier whose father didn't have a profile job maybe it would not have gotten that much attention.
I say all that to say apparently this was Gods will and that something positive, something big has got to come out of this. Something has to for me and Brittany.
And then, something happened that touched me so much. Father's from all over started to reach out to me. Some many dads for whatever reason had not been communicating with their daughter's as much as they would have liked or that had something that was pushing them apart. This one father said to me after Brittany's memorial, I'm going to call my daughter and tell her I love her. I got so much of that. So many folks coming up and saying I'm going to reconnect with my daughter. I'm going to change my life. And, I hope it isn't just for this moment. I hope this isn't just happening right now. I hope those fathers will connect and change their relationships.
When I said to them you may be frustrated with your daughter, I know kids can do things sometimes that has us shaking our heads. But, I said you go to them and hug them and kiss them and you make it right with them because you never know when that chance could be taken away.
Sarina: Do you also hope for anything regarding the military? You have two other children serving.
Chief Gordon: What is most important to me and what is most important to Brittany is, Brittany did not get care a lot about the superfluous things. She didn't care about money she didn't care about trips how those things were. Brittany cared about good values, morals, ethics and she loved people those were the kind of things she cared about.
She was just aiming outstanding young lady and I don't mean to keep saying this because she is my daughter. She really was. And now she is gone.
I can not emphasize enough that those who make decisions about the war, need to think long and hard about the consequences and casualties.
I think every citizen in this country should have some skin in the game. So when our men and men and women and those boys and girls, and those husbands and wives are killed everyone feels their pain one way or another.
Sarina: How do you think, sir?
Chief Gordon: There should be a commitment by the country. One thing that has bothered my for awhile and this is just my opinion, the deaths of these young and women we have become immune to it. It's not a big deal anymore. You know? And that shouldn't be. Every time some is killed we should all feel the pain. Everybody needs to be contributing to this.