As Bryce River prepares for his upcoming tour of duty in Afghanistan he has come to realize that his Payson roots are a constant source of strength.
“I have many things to look back on in Payson, and when I get challenged to do things that are some of the toughest I have ever done, I think about the great influences I had (in Payson) and the role models that were there,” he said.
River, a former Longhorn football and wrestling standout, who graduated from PHS in 2003, says the attitude of “never do anything less than your best” taught to him by former PHS coaches Dennis Pirch, Don Heizer and Dave LaMotte are a “great mindset they put in me a long time ago.”
River was a member of the local wrestling program for six years and, as a PHS senior, finished third at state with a 35-3 record in the 189-pound class. He was also an Arizona Coaches Association All-Star alternate.
From River’s past, he also appreciates life’s lessons taught to him by his older brother, Blair, and father, Robert, who died in 2008 at 52 years of age.
“They taught me what it takes to make sacrifices to support your family,” he said.
Today, the PHS graduate, now a U.S. Army Specialist E-4, is stationed in Ft. Campbell, Ky. where he is a member of the 101st Airborne Air Assault Division.
The 4,000 soldiers in the division, including River, are in training for their deployment to Afghanistan, and will leave in January 2010.
The division will report this month to Fort Polk, La., “for some intense 30-day training to further prepare us to go,” River said.
In the Army, River is a motor transportation specialist in charge of transporting medical supplies, ammunition, food, combat equipment and fellow soldiers.
“I grew up in the trucking business, and now I’m doing it for the Army,” said River, whose father was a long distance truck driver, often hauling timber and lumber.
After graduating from PHS and prior to joining the Army, River served on a mission for the LDS church and, in the summer of 2003, traveled to Australia as a member of the Arizona All-Star football team that played in the Down Under Bowl.
He called that trip, “an experience every high school football player should set their sights on participating in.”
Although the PHS grad fondly recalls his life at Payson High, the Army has allowed him to make new friends he might not have met had he not joined the military on Jan. 20, 2009.
“There are lots of people here that I am honored to call friends, and I can’t wait to serve with these guys in Afghanistan,” he said. “”We train very hard every day and prepare to do our job.
“I love these guys, and I am proud to call them my brothers.”
River’s goal is one that all military personnel going overseas share, “It is to all come home together as one unit.”
Before joining the 101st Airborne Air Assault Division, River took his basic training at Ft. Jackson, S. C. and advanced training at Ft. Bliss, near San Antonio, Texas.
He calls his three months of basic training “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, not for the physical aspects of it, but for the mental part.”
It was tough mentally because during that training time he had to be apart from the love of his life, his wife Whitney, who he met in Farmington, N.M. and then married Oct. 13, 2007 in Payson.
Although the U.S. Army is now River’s career, he is looking down the road to when his time in the military ends.
“My long-term goal is to become a law enforcement officer in Payson where I grew up and went to school,” he said. “But for now, I love the Army and what I do, so I don’t have any plans to get out soon.”
Bryce’s mother, Kathy, continues to live in Payson and is a teacher at Payson Elementary School.