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FORT THOMAS, KY. — Just a few weeks from seeing the birth of his first child, Michael Robert Bradford died serving his country in Afghanistan.
Bradford, 26, from Fort Thomas and residing in Augusta, Ga., was a contractor for DynCorp International teaching law enforcement and security to police in Afghanistan.
He was among four NATO civilian contractors, two NATO service members and six Afghan civilians – including schoolchildren – killed Thursday morning when a suicide car bomber rammed a two-vehicle NATO convoy in Kabul. The bombing occurred during rush hour in the Afghan capital, according to NATO and Afghan government officials.
“He was just smart as a whip. ... He was just a great kid growing up. He was fantastic in all the different sports,” his father, Gary “Moose” Bradford of Fort Thomas said Friday.
Michael Bradford grew up in Fort Thomas, a kid who loved to make his friends laugh and would help anyone with anything, said a school buddy, Jacob Duesing, now of Casper, Wyo.
“He’s really just a great guy,” Duesing said. “Absolutely hysterical – he always had the greatest outlook on life.”
Duesing said he’d just spoken with Bradford a few weeks ago.
“He was happy. He said he had a boy on the way. He was so excited about that.”
Family friend Zach Rawlings said Bradford got away with a lot of pranks in high school – like “jumping out a second-story window” as a joke and being the class clown.
“He would even make the teachers laugh,” Rawlings said.
After graduating from Highlands High School in 2005, Bradford briefly attended Northern Kentucky University before enlisting in the U.S. Army.
Gary “Moose” Bradford said his son was bored with college and searching for a challenge. While in the military, he learned to speak Korean fluently and served as a linguist. He learned Korean in 15 months, his father said.
Bradford served five years in the Army, achieving the rank of sergeant before leaving in 2011. After the military he went to work for contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, he worked for the SAIC Corp. teaching security and law enforcement. He continued to serve in the Army Reserves, as well.
“He was always a leader,” said his mother, Linda Bradford of Johnson City, Tenn. “(He was) much older than his age.”
Twin younger brothers Chris and Kenny Bradford of Fort Thomas were always impressed with their big brother.
“He was always hard on us. Always looking out for us,” Chris Bradford said.
“As we grew older, we definitely grew closer,” he said. “I enjoyed playing golf with him and cornhole. I just remember playing cornhole for hours at a time in our backyard.”
While in high school, Bradford met Sasha Cantrell, and although the two didn’t date then, they married in 2007, his mother said.
Sasha Bradford is a little more than eight months pregnant and plans to name her baby Michael, after his father, Chris Bradford said.
Michael Bradford had been working in Afghanistan since shortly after Thanksgiving last year and planned to return to the United States on June 20 for his son’s birth, his father said. Bradford had hoped to stay a month with his family, then return to Afghanistan before coming home permanently in November.
DynCorp International, a global government services provider supporting U.S. national security and foreign police objectives, posted a statement on its website regarding the car bombing in Kabul.
The corporation stated that four of its employees had died and three others were wounded but did not have life-threatening injuries.
“The company extends its deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives,” the media release stated, noting that no additional comments would be issued with respect to the families’ privacy.
DynCorp said the four who died were working on the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan and were “tragically killed by an explosion.” Under the contract, the company provides mentors and trainers to support the development of the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense, the press release stated.
Bradford’s friends, family and school associates described him as an intelligent, energetic person who got along well with others and always had a smile on his face. He loved sports and had a particular fondness for the UK Wildcats.
While at Highlands, Bradford played on the golf team. Brian Robinson, then the assistant principal at Highlands High School said Bradford returned to Fort Thomas while off duty and sometimes went to Highlands football games.
“He was a great ambassador for Fort Thomas, giving his life for his country,” childhood friend Chad Hudepohl said.
Moose learned of his son’s death from Sasha Bradford at about 3 p.m. Thursday when she called him. The father of the young man said he was in total disbelief. “You just don’t want to ever hear that, and just to hear it just makes you crazy,” Bradford said. “It was just awful.”
Survivors include Michael Bradford’s twin brothers Chris and Kenny Bradford, 24, of Fort Thomas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.