Face of Defense: Former British Soldier Joins U.S. Army
By Army Sgt. Teddy Wade
Special to American Forces Press Service
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 14, 2010 Army Spc. Robert Sumner looks like any other American soldier. But when he speaks, his thick British accent separates him from the crowd.
Army Spc. Robert Sumner, a native of Birmingham, England, and a British army veteran, now serves with the U.S. Army at Forward Operation Base Joyce in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Teddy Wade, 55th Signal Company
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Serving here with the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, Sumner realizes his road from the British Isles to the mountains of Afghanistan was a long and interesting path.
Sumner said he always dreamed of being a soldier, and after graduating from high school in 1996, he enlisted in the British army, serving in Cyprus, Hong Kong, Kosovo, Bosnia and Northern Ireland until 2003.
In 2004, he began working for a private security firm, and he continued working there until 2005, when he came to the United States for the first time to attend training in Arkansas. There, he met and married his wife, Katherine.
For two years, Sumner lived with his new wife in his new home. But he wanted to give something back to his new country, and in July 2007, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“I enlisted in the U.S. Army because I wanted to do something for this country that has given me so much,” Sumner said. “When people ask me in the future, ‘What have you done for this country?’ I’ll have something to say.”
Sumner joined the 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, N.Y., after asking one of his drill sergeants in basic training which unit is the most deployed in the Army.
“When I was going to Fort Drum, I was all excited about going over there,” Sumner said. “I imagined, ‘A mountain division. They should have a lot of mountains to climb, and I’m an avid hiker. That should be fun.’ But soon after I arrived, I realized that Fort Drum is flat, and that they just get a lot of snow.”
Before deploying in January 2009, Sumner was serving as an infantryman in the reconnaissance platoon. But he suffered an injury during training and was removed from that position.
“I had a foot injury,” Sumner said. “An infantryman’s feet are very important. So our sergeant major decided to pull me out from that duty and assigned me to the personal security detachment, mostly due to my experience as a contractor. When I arrived in Afghanistan, they placed me in the PSD as temporary duty, but three months later, I was still doing it even though I was fully recovered.”
Sumner uses his experience in personal security operations as a PSD team leader for Army Lt. Col. Frederick O’Donnell, the battalion commander.
“The first time I met Sumner was back in Fort Drum,” O’Donnell said. “Back then, he was assigned to Combat Company. He was a private first class leading an entire squad during a live-fire exercise. I was impressed just by watching his execution; he displayed a lot of ability. It is funny to me, because he called some of his soldiers ‘blokes,’ just like they do back in England. The way he gave the commands reflected his background and experience.”
Army Staff Sgt. Mike Cruz, noncommissioned officer in charge of the personal security detachment and Sumner’s squad leader, also had praise for Sumner.
“I really appreciate his expertise as a soldier,” Cruz said. “He is a great asset for the team, and he helps me train the other guys in the PSD.”
Sumner noted the difference in the core of the loyalty professed by soldiers in the two armies in which he’s served.
“British soldiers often said they fight for the queen,” he said. “Over here in America, we fight for the American people. American people have been so good to me.
“When I went back to the U.S. for my rest and recreation,” he continued, “people were clapping at the airport and offered to pay for my meal. I was so amazed. Nobody does that in England. Maybe they appreciate my service over there, but they just showed it in a different way. I’m now 31 years old, but I’ve still got a long way to go. I love the Army, and I feel that I can do so much more.”
(Army Sgt. Teddy Wade serves with the 55th Signal Company.)