Page 104 - Cityview May-June 2017
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pioneered during his time in Giessen— teaching soldiers how to react to the unexpected.
Civilian Life
The Army then transferred Bridges
to Fort Gillem in Georgia. He took advantage of the proximity to
Georgia Tech to continue working
on his future goals. He beefed up
his teaching resume, earning a
second master’s degree, this time
in chemistry, so when the Army
began downsizing, Bridges was well-positioned to take the next
step in his life’s journey. A position opened up for a professor who could teach both biology and chemistry at Chattahoochee Technical Institute
in 1996. He got the job but quickly realized that the school, which had no laboratory at the time, was planning to build one that would have been under- equipped. Bridges intervened. “I asked if I could change the blueprints, and they said I had two weeks.” After leaving the military, Bridges’ father had started a construction firm. They built the heavy timber framing of what was then known as Walt Disney World Village, and Bridges got his bearings with blueprints at an early age. He made the necessary changes, and the school got a lab that met academic standards.
After three years, Bridges says, “we weren’t sure we wanted to raise our children in a suburb of Atlanta with Atlanta growing as it was.” Tennessee was an attractive option; Bridges’ mother was from Tennessee. When
a biology professor position opened up at Pellissippi State, he took a shot and applied. Bridges got the job and moved the family, selling everything they had. But finding a new home proved to be difficult. “Every time we showed up to view a house,” he says, “it was already sold.”
They ended up living in dome tents while they searched. “On the first day of classes,” Bridges says,
“I told the students to stand up and say something interesting about themselves.” Bridges shared as well, saying, “Well, I’ll tell you something
about myself. I’m homeless.” Fortunately, by the second class, Bridges was able to announce, “Guess what? I’m not homeless anymore!”
After nine years and extensive renovations on a home in Oliver Springs, they decided they needed more land. They purchased a home on 29 acres in rural Clinton. The home presented an opportunity for Bridges to put his plan-and-execute lifestyle to work once again. “There was mold everywhere,” he says. “Brenda took two steps in the house and two steps out because the smell was so bad.” But the work paid off. Today there stands a beautiful house, a large wooden pavilion, an enormous fishing pond and dock, a barn, and several sheds. They raise and sell chickens, ducks, goats, rabbits, and turkeys. Despite the challenge, they hope to begin raising honeybees. And in the midst of it all, Bridges found time to earn his doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2012. It’s an enormous workload. Yet, consistent with the rest of his life, Bridges still has further plans. At the top of the list is making BeeRidges a place where veterans from all walks of life feel at home.
Serving Those Who Served
If you ask Bridges and his family, they’d say they’ve had a blessed life, but it’s also clear that vision, hard work, and persistence have paid off. Now they focus on helping veterans find their place in civilian life. At Pellissippi State, Bridges served as Faculty President and helped form the Veterans Support Committee. The committee worked
to create Pellissippi’s Ben Atchley Veterans Success Center, which offers veterans a network of support services. Bridges is currently the Veterans Success Coordinator and advisor to the Veterans Club. They’ve recently hired an Air Force veteran to help run these veteran services. Ironically, he’s making the transition from military to civilian life by helping other veterans do the same.
Bridges and his family have worked with groups to cut walking paths
for the Oak Ridge Veterans Center
and to clear brush at the Sharp’s
Ridge Veteran Memorial Park. They participate in the “22 boots” project, designed to raise awareness of the 22 veterans who commit suicide each
day. They work to build homes for homeless vets, and have been known to pick up hitchhiking veterans and invite them into their home at BeeRidges Farm. Keith is currently working to establish a non-profit called “Shield
to Field,” which is based on an old Spartan methodology. He explains, “Spartans did 30 years in the military. When they retired from the service, they were often given a parcel of land. They were farmers and politicians.” The family is working with others to create the East Tennessee Veterans Coalition, an organization to help coordinate the efforts of many other veterans organizations.
“It’s the people who are the most important,” Brenda says. “It has got to be about people and community. We’ve imparted that to our boys; we did a
lot of volunteer work when they were young.” Keith had two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan as a Marine (he is now in the Army Reserve); and Joshua had two tours in Iraq with the Army. But Brenda has stayed strong. “For nine years, one or both of my sons was deployed. Everyone asked, ‘Aren’t you a nervous wreck?’ And I said no. I chose faith over fear.”
Bridges and his family are working to make BeeRidges Farm a community hub where veterans and others can gather, help each other out, and
share their stories. In the meantime, BeeRidges Farm offers fishing and livestock sales, as well as beautiful facilities and scenery for weddings and parties. Bridges’ mind is swimming with future plans. Swing by BeeRidges Farm sometime and ask him about them.
For more information about BeeRidges Farm, check out its Facebook page.
Trent Eades is a teacher, photographer, and avid reader of science  ction. His latest read is Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun.
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