FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanista –
When the world first caused the lives of two future Kentucky Army National Guard soldiers to cross paths around five years ago in Paducah, Ky., no one could have guessed how far their friendship would take them together. But on a small outpost in southern Afghanistan the two friends who consider themselves brothers have found themselves serving together as a part Kentucky’s Agribusiness Development Team 4 with fellow soldiers, airmen, and civilian agricultural specialists.
“Closer than blood ever could be,” described Spc. Preston Perry, a 21-year-old Benton, Ky. native now residing in Lexington, Ky. of his relationship with Spc. Howard Summers, a 21-year-old Chicago, Ill. native now residing in Paducah.
“I was there for his first beer, I was there for his first heartbreak, I was there for his first sports car, his first car, which was a horrible idea,” he said. ”I mean, at the drop of a hat, we never think twice to call each other if we need something.”
“We’re really, really close, to the point that we get on each others’ nerves. I mean, there hasn’t really been anything I haven’t done with him,” said Summers. “We’ve been there for each other through thick and thin.
“When my granddaddy passed away, he was there for me,” he recalled.
In Kentucky, both soldiers are members of Marion, Ky.’s 1123rd Sapper Company, 206th Engineer Battalion.
Summers initially joined the Kentucky National Guard at the age of 17.
“My grandfather passed away. When he passed away, I always made a promise to him that I would join the military and do something with my life,” Summers said. “After I came back from boot camp … [Perry] wanted to really join, so I talked him into it and told him how everything was. He loved it.”
Perry recalled how his friend inspired him to wear the uniform. ”He actually joined a little while before me and once he told me how awesome it was, I wanted a part of it. Howard liked the military stuff already and I was kind of looking for direction, so once he told me how cool it was, I thought maybe there was something behind it.”
The two soldiers’ families, they said, probably feel about the same as many deployed soldiers’ families do.
“I mean, they’re excited,” Perry said. “But they’re not happy because [Summers] just got back from Iraq and he chose to go again. I kind of feel like I got blamed for that one. But they’re proud of what’s going on here and our purpose here,” he added.
“Mom doesn’t want either one of us over here,” Summers said. “She didn’t want me to go with the 149th [Infantry Regiment] to Iraq, and when she found out we were both going to go on this one, she was pretty heated. But she understood that we’re going to try and watch each others backs and we’re not going to let anything happen to each other.”
“The rest of the family, they’re glad that we’re together, not separate, because like I said, we’ll always have each others back if something happens. So if something gets hard I can always go to him, or if something gets hard for him, he can always go to me,” Summers said.
For both soldiers, they say there are both good and bad aspects to serving with someone they’ve long considered a brother.
“The hardest part is spending every day together. It feels like we’re living together again,” Perry joked. “But the real hardest part is every day when he goes out on mission and I’m not there to protect him. I’m supposed to be the big brother, I’m supposed to guard him.”
Summers echoed his friend’s sentiment. ”The hardest part would probably be the fact that we’re on different squads when [Perry] rolls out … or when I roll out as well. I’m not saying that something could happen, but there’s always that possibility that you sit there and think about it that he’s out there and I’m not right next to him.”
“I still wonder, like waiting for him to get back, or ‘hey, have you heard any good news or bad news’ when our convoy’s out there,” he added.
“The best part is we both sleep in the same tent right across from each other. It’s easier knowing that even after a hard day, or just a day full of stress or little things that get on your nerves, that I can come towards him, say ‘hey, this is how I feel today.’ It’s someone to basically cheer me up, bring me back and laugh. We can sit and make jokes. It just gets me out of that negativity attitude,” Summers said.
“Just spending quality time together,” Perry said. “It’s like being little together … you know, we have one task to do, and other than that, we just get to spend time together. We have our petty little arguments and stuff like that, but for the most part, we just get to laugh together and get to see each other in action. We get to see each other as soldiers.”
“I do regret asking him [Summers] to come only because he just got back from Iraq in December … I feel like if I hadn’t asked him, he wouldn’t have come,” Perry recalled. “He could be at home right now.”
“I don’t feel like I’m stressed out or feel like I’m in a combat zone when I’m sitting back with him [Perry] and we’re just sitting there talking in the tent,” Summers said. “It takes me out of a combat area for a little bit while we sit there and have fun like we’re back at the house.”
For their fondest memories serving together, each Soldier has his own stories.
“Here, every time we go to a bazaar, he [Summers] finds his way to weasel out of places with only spending a dollar and coming out with a stereo system,” Perry joked.
“Our very first drill together with our unit … I got promoted to Private 1st Class, and it was really funny because Summers was all excited for me, and he nudged me a little … when he nudged me, I went out in front of the formation,” Perry said. “And as I was going out in front of the formation, it was icy and I slipped and fell in front of everybody … so that would probably be the most hysterical moment we spent together.”
“I would say one of the coolest experiences would probably be when the flood happened last spring throughout western Kentucky … Perry and I were down there,” Summers recalled. “We spent about two weeks filling up sandbags. It was a blast, me and him going back and forth, filling them up. It was just, we had that perfect bonding time as far as putting us militarily together and doing something for the state,” he added.
“We’ve grown up together, changed a lot, seen a lot of different parts of the world together and gone through hell and back together … we’ve lived together, we joined the military together, and we’ve fought together,” recalled Perry.
“We’re both together, we’re sharing that, not just … from our family side, from a brother side, but we’re also mixing with our military lives as well. So we’re getting both experiences mixed in together, something we both love to do,” Summers said. “He’s my brother and I love him to death.”