Kyle Comfort

NASCAR driver Matt DiBenedetto drives his car, which honored Army Ranger Capt. Kyle Comfort during the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday.

When the opportunity arose for Jacob McCullum to honor a fallen service member, Army Ranger Capt. Kyle Comfort’s name came to mind immediately.

That suggestion became reality when NASCAR driver Matt DiBenedetto competed in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday with “CPT Comfort” across his windshield. It was all part of NASCAR’s 600 miles of remembrance initiative which saw the former Saks and Jacksonville resident honored alongside 39 other fallen service members.

“It’s therapeutic. ... Because I didn’t get to talk to Kyle before he died,” McCullum said.

Comfort was killed in action in Afghanistan on May 8, 2010. He was 27 years old.

Leaving a legacy

Is a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment big enough to feed 20 soldiers breakfast?

That’s a question Kyle never stopped to consider when Christmas rolled around in 2009.

“It kind of freaked me out because I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” his wife, Brooke Comfort, said. “But that’s just how he was. Some of his guys didn’t get to go home, they weren’t going to have a Christmas breakfast.”

At the time, Brooke had doubts they could pull it off. Their daughter Kinleigh was mere weeks old at the time and less than 24 hours isn’t a lot of time when it comes to preparing food for 20 guests.

Now she’s able to look back on that memory and smile.

“It was those kind of situations and things that made him who he was,” she said. “And why I, still to this day, I have guys message me that he served with telling me what an impact that he had on their lives.”

Brooke estimates over 100 men have contacted her since Kyle’s death to let her know the life-altering impact her husband had on their lives.

McCullum is now one of those men. Although he wasn’t at that breakfast, it’s the perfect example of the leadership Kyle displayed often in front of McCullum. It’s why he canceled plans to attend a wedding last weekend once the chance to support Kyle came up.

“Kyle he was a friendly, kind and caring leader,” McCullum said. “On the officer side ... there wasn’t a lot of leaders that would treat us that way. And it was because they had to do their job.”

McCullum understood that friendship can often undermine the sort of hierarchy necessary in organizations like the Army. But that’s exactly what Kyle offered to the men under his command. He also enjoyed making them laugh.

“He’d find a way to take us away from thinking about it for just a minute, which was enough,” McCullum said.

When “Good Morning America” passed through Iraq while Kyle was deployed, he made a parody video with the men he served alongside. Brooke said that sort of goofiness was typical for Kyle. He prided himself on getting people to laugh when things were at their worst.

Those stories are everything to Kinleigh, who was 6 months old when Kyle died.

“It gives her a little bit more of a glimpse into who her dad was because she never really got a chance to know him, even though she acts just like him,” Brooke said.

DiBenedetto said the patriotism on display at the Coca-Cola 600 always gives him chills. There’s the military members present, the flyover and of course the time he’s able to spend with family members like Brooke.

“You could also tell how proud she was of him and how special of a moment I feel like it was for her for us all to be able to honor him,” DiBenedetto said.

When the race began Brooke was seated above DiBenedetto’s pit box. She said Kyle would have loved the view, but hated the fuss made over him before the race, especially when others could have been honored instead.

“It was overwhelming, but it was a good overwhelming,” she said. “It was just awesome. It was a great weekend.”

Staff Writer Tyler Waldrep: 256-510-1751. On Twitter: @TWaldrep_Star

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