The characteristics that made Adrianna Vorderbruggen successful in her Air Force career were already evident when she was a young girl playing on the soccer fields of the Twin Cities’ western suburbs.
Disciplined, consistent and steadfast without a hint of hubris, she played mostly defense and remains second in all-time assists on the Wayzata High School girls’ soccer team.
“She was one of the most solid players I ever played with. Rarely did anybody get past her. She was like a wall back there. She was so consistent. I don’t think she ever had a bad game,” said former teammate Tiffany (Alstead) Molde, who began playing organized soccer with Vorderbruggen when they were 10.
Vorderbruggen, a 1998 Wayzata High graduate and a major in the U.S. Air Force, was killed this week in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber attacked her patrol outside Bagram Air Base. She was 36, and the first openly gay American female officer to be killed in the line of duty.
Vorderbruggen, a native of Plymouth, was one of two members of the Wayzata team — the other was Becky Wyffels — to be admitted to the U.S. Air Force Academy after graduation. It was no surprise to those who knew her when she headed off to Colorado Springs in pursuit of a career in the military.
“There was something different about them. They were detail-oriented, extremely smart, disciplined,” Molde said.
Molde and Vorderbruggen would see each other periodically while returning home for the holidays, but Vorderbruggen seemed to remain politely evasive about the type of work she was doing in the military.
Molde said the last time she saw Vorderbruggen was several years ago after Vorderbruggen’s mother had passed away; she recalled that Vorderbruggen, then married with a child, appeared more gregarious.
“She was much more outgoing and chatty. It was really fun to see,” Molde said. “She seemed like she loved what she did. It just seemed like she was in a really good place in her life.”
Vorderbruggen served with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which conducts inquiries into criminal, fraud, counterintelligence and other security concerns. She was assigned to the 9th Field Investigations Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
The attack this week, by a bomber who rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol, was the deadliest on international forces in Afghanistan since August.
“She’s a hero, and I hope she’s a hero to all of us, not just to me,” her older brother, Christopher Vorderbruggen, told CBS News.
He said his trailblazing sister was charged with protecting the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
“She intentionally would go on these patrols with her men, because she wanted to show them that she would do what she was asking them to do,” he said.
While at Wayzata, Vorderbruggen was part of highly pedigreed soccer teams, one of which won a state championship and another that allowed only two goals against it the entire season.
Her high school soccer coach, Tony Peszneker, described her as someone who could be counted on.
“I remember a player who was very steady, reliable, dependable, levelheaded and cool under pressure,” Peszneker said. “She got quite a few accolades for her being an athlete, but was one of those ones who was under the radar. She wasn’t flashy or flamboyant, but she got the job done. I’m sure all of those attributes were why the Air Force Academy came calling for her.”
Peszneker said that he kept in contact with Vorderbruggen’s parents periodically but that he was unaware she had been deployed to Afghanistan.
“It’s one of those things where you see loss of life, casualties from the war,” he said. “It gets broken down to your state and finally to your city, and you wonder when is it going to be someone close to you. Then all of a sudden it becomes an unbelievable thing that happens all the time but now hits close to home.”
In recent years, Vorderbruggen, who leaves behind a wife and a son, also became a pioneer in championing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the military.
Peszneker said that he could see her quiet determination in promoting the cause and that he was impressed with the strength she showed in pressing for change.
“She stood for something, she knew what she needed to do and she got the job done,” he said. “Whether people like it or not, she brought a lot of recognition to the movement. I’m very proud of her for that.”