Airborne Buddies Are Friends for Life
By Micah E. Clare, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 24, 2007 Sitting in their turrets manning their guns as tracers whizzed over their heads from all directions, Army Sgt. Damon Bligh and Spc. Rick Crothers knew they always had somebody they could count on: each other.
Army Sgt. Damon Bligh (front), from Boston, and Spc. Rick Crothers, from Mascoutah, Ill., both drivers in Company A, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, laugh and joke while walking back to work after lunch in Paktika province, Afghanistan. Both have been in the same units for nearly three years. Photo by Spc. Micah E. Clare, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Serving in Iraq together, the two soldiers can’t remember how many times they were attacked by the enemy, but they’ve been through it all, thick and thin, for close to three years now.
Bligh, from Boston, and Crothers, from Mascoutah, Ill., drivers in Company A, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, have served together in the same units since Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga. in 2004.
The two drivers were in the same squad while learning how to jump from airplanes, but they didn’t really become friends until they ran into each other again at the 19th Replacement Detachment at Fort Bragg, N.C., waiting to receive their unit assignments, Bligh remembers.
“I saw this guy looking for the (dining facility),” he said.
“And I said, ‘Hey you were at Airborne School, right?’” Crothers finished.
The two hit it off from then on and thought it was fortunate when they were both assigned to 546th Transportation Company, 1st Corps Support Command. However, it was only a matter of time until they were both sent right into the thick of things.
“This sergeant major (at replacement) asked us what our jobs were, and I told him we were drivers,” Bligh explained. “He replied, ‘You’re outta here!’ I seriously thought he meant we were getting kicked out of replacement, but as I found out, he meant something completely different.”
Less than two months later, the two were boarding a plane, beginning a deployment to Iraq, an experience neither of them would ever forget.
When they first got to Forward Operating Base Sietz in Iraq, they had just set down their bags and had only been at their bunks for a few minutes, when they heard the whistle and explosion of an incoming round, followed by a blaring alarm.
“We were just laying there in our bunks,” Crothers said, laughing. “We just looked at each other, thinking, ‘What is going on?’ We had no idea what to do.”
A seasoned noncommissioned officer came running in and saw them lying there and yelled at them to get their gear and get to the nearest bunker. “‘Welcome to Hell! From now on, get to the bunkers,’ he yelled at us,” Bligh said. “I’m just glad I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what to do.”
It wasn’t long before the two became accustomed to the almost daily attacks. When they began to get out on the road more often, frequent firefights became the norm, they said.
Some of these situations were pretty stressful, but they were always together on missions, Bligh in one truck, and Crothers in another.
After that deployment, Bligh and Crothers watched as their other friends were split up and sent to different units, thinking the same thing was going to happen to them.
“I got orders for the 82nd,” Crothers said. “I said, ‘See you later Bligh! You’re stuck here.’”
Weeks later, Bligh got orders to a different brigade in the 82nd, but soon enough they found out they were both going to 4th Brigade, then to 782nd BSB, and finally to Company A.
“It’s happening again,” Bligh said he remembered thinking when he saw Crothers’ name again in his new unit roster.
It was a completely different situation from their previous assignment, though. This time, they were the ones who knew what was going on, Bligh said.
“When we first got to the company, there were only 20 of us, but it quickly became 120. Most of them were right out of basic (training), and we were pretty much the only ones wearing combat patches,” he said.
Crothers, who had trained and qualified on many different weapons systems and had attended armorer courses, was able to contribute much to the new unit. “I was giving weapons classes as a (private first class),” he explained. “So I was able to hand off that knowledge to the other soldiers in our platoon and get them ready for the upcoming deployment.”
Crothers and Bligh then deployed to Afghanistan with the 782nd BSB in January 2007 and have spent the last nine months in a combat logistics patrol running supplies to far-reaching and isolated bases throughout the southeastern area of the country.
This is sometimes a challenging mission, but the deep-rooted friendship of the two paratroopers helps them get through it, Crothers explained.
“It would be really tough if (Bligh) wasn’t here,” he said. “He’s got a quick comeback for everything.”
“Crothers keeps me sane sometimes being out here,” Bligh added. “We always have something to talk about, and we joke around about everything. We look forward to getting back home, though.”
By the time they redeploy in the spring, they’ll have both been in combat together for close to 25 months.
“We’ve became really close,” Crothers said. “Being in stressful situations will do that to people.”
“We’ve roomed together, bunked together, and been to war together,” Bligh said. “We got to know each other so well, even on days we didn’t want to.”
At home, they plan on getting their families together for barbecues and parties, because their wives have become good friends, as well, the two said.
Even though Bligh’s time in service is finished soon after he returns from Afghanistan, the fact that the two will no longer be serving together won’t dampen their camaraderie, they said.
“We’ll definitely always be friends,” Crothers and Bligh said.
(Army Spc. Micah E. Clare is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)