Buffalo, New York, US
United States Army
CPT, U.S. Army Cavalry 1st
Armored Division Buedingen, Germany, 09/21/2005
“We never really met,” Warrener, the hard-nosed Calgary Flames defenseman, said of his late brother-in-law.
“We talked a few times on the phone. We officially met maybe two or three weeks before he passed away. He’d been in the hospital for months battling for his life.”
Despite the fleeting contact, Warrener feels a profound connection to Bager, a United States army captain who died on Sept. 21 as a result of injuries suffered in a training accident.
“You learn about the guy,” said Warrener, who was granted a leave of absence during training camp to attend his brother-in-law’s funeral.
“He’s kind of a part of the family, even though you don’t know him. You get to know through the stories — you figure out the type of person that he was by all the people involved in his life.”You go to the funeral and meet the friends and you hear the stories about the way he sacrificed. Even not knowing him, in my eyes, he’s a pretty big hero.”
Typically gruff, but in a humourous and harmless way, Warrener speaks about his wife Christina’s brother in subdued, almost reverential tones.
“We weren’t close personal friends,” he said, “but I think we would have been.”
So moved was Warrener by his brother-in-law’s life and legacy, the defenceman, unbeknownst to his wife, has scrawled the initials CRB — Captain Robert Bager — on a strip of foam padding at the base of his helmet.
“It’s a tribute to him and what he did and the sacrifices he made,” Warrener explained. “We go out there and get punched in the nose and we consider that a sacrifice. These guys are giving it everything.”
Bager served in Iraq with the U.S. Army Cavalry 1st Armored Division and was training in Germany for a second tour of duty when he was fatally injured.
“He’s the type of guy who really stands out,” said Warrener, who met Christina when he was playing for the Buffalo Sabres.
“For example, after he got sent to Iraq, he went back to the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) and talked to the guys who taught him and said, ‘We’re not teaching guys the right stuff.’ He’s a guy who worried more about getting all his guys through the ordeal and making sure they were safe than he was concerned about making sure he was safe.”
“It’s been a big learning experience,” said Warrener. “From something like this, you try and take positives, though they’re hard to find. You realize that there’s so many more people sacrificing so much more for their beliefs and something they hold dear. It shows you what true sacrifice is.”