BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (12/24/2012) – Up until a few days ago, Staff Sgt. Derek Allen hadn't seen his brother, U.S. Army Cpl. Greg Allen, in a long time.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Derek Allen, 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron and brother Cpl. Greg Allen, U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division meet up for the first time since 2009 at Bagram Air Field on Dec. 23, 2012. The A-10s maintained by Derek dropped munitions when the 101st called in for air support when they came under fire and required overhead assistance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jun Kim)
However, an interesting twist of fate spurred their separate services to bring them together here for the Christmas holidays.
“Both of us being here in [Afghanistan] is the closest we have ever been to each other since Thanksgiving 2009,” said the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron tactical aircraft maintenance craftsman, deployed here from Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.
As a teenager in Akron, Ohio, Sgt. Allen was driven to join the Air Force following the events of 9/11.
"We took the path less traveled," he said of the choice he and his brother made to join the armed services.
Their parents, Charles and Melissa Allen, recalled that their eldest son's decision to join the Air Force was long planned.
“[Derek] knew well into his senior year,” Melissa said, “he signed even before he graduated.”
But while Sgt. Allen chose the Air Force, his brother opted for the Army instead.
"He didn't want to be like his older brother," Sgt. Allen recalled with a grin, “he wanted to blaze his own path.”
However, Cpl. Allen said his brother was one of the biggest supporters of his decision to join the Army.
Besides his wife, “[my brother] was only person who really understood,” he remembered.
Despite some good-natured ribbing about each other's chosen service, the Allen brothers have found the military has only strengthened their relationship, despite their physical distance.
"We've always been close, but now it's changed from 'you knucklehead' to 'how's work?'," Sgt. Allen said. "For [our family], we're the only ones who understand the jargon."
Their parents, meanwhile, are incredibly proud of their sons.
“You have to grow up kind of fast ... being able to embrace all the different things being thrown at them and just excel at it,” said Charles of the military life his sons embraced, “the structure has made them into very strong men.”
Recently, that special relationship was strengthened even further. Sgt. Allen was able to look out for his younger sibling, without even realizing it at the time.
As a member of the A-10 Phase Inspection team, Allen ensures that the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft stationed here are ready to execute their mission of close air support for troops in the field. One December day, two A-10s were performing air support when they received a call that a unit was under fire and needed overhead assistance. One aircraft made a pass over the area and got the call from the Joint Tactical Air Controller that they needed some heavy fire. Dropping two 500 pound bombs, the aircraft hit the target and the hostile fire subsided.
Sgt. Allen later found out that the unit that needed assistance was part of the 101st Airborne Division, and that his brother was among the troops whose lives were safeguarded that day.
“When it comes to close air support, the A-10 is the first thing you think of,” Cpl. Allen said later, adding it was tremendous confidence boost to watch the A-10 do its work.
“That was a moment where I knew everyone was going to make it back,” he said.
Soon afterward, Cpl. Allen contacted his brother via Facebook asking him to thank the A-10 pilot. Sgt. Allen has always taken pride in his work, but hearing the news of how aircraft he prepares for flight helped protect his brother increased it.
“I and the rest of the guys on our Phase team directly affected the combat airpower that was able to help out not only my brother but all the guys in his unit,” he said. “It's not every day that an older brother truly gets to make sure that the skies over his little brother are safe.
"To know my brother gets to come home to my niece and his wife is a great feeling," he added.
When the brothers' respective chains of command heard the story, they launched a successful effort to get them together for the holidays. When Cpl. Allen arrived here, the time spent apart seemed to disappear.
“It was literally like having seen him just yesterday,” Sgt. Allen said of his brother's arrival.
That comes as good news to their parents.
“They do a lot of shielding of us; they don't want us to worry,” said Melissa. “When we finally got the gist of what happened, we were like ‘oh, wow, those types of things really are going on.'”
Charles echoed his wife's feelings.
“Like any other parent you're always thinking about it, but at the same time you aren't thinking about it.”
For the time being however, Melissa and her husband are thrilled at the thought of her sons spending Christmas together for the first time in years.
“It really is an awesome Christmas gift,” she said. “They may not be with us and we're not with them, but at least they can be with each other.”
By USAF Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
Provided through DVIDS
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