By Air Force Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
455th Air Expeditionary Wing
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 27, 2012 – Up until a few days ago, Air Force Staff Sgt. Derek Allen hadn't seen his brother, Army Cpl. Greg Allen, in more than three years. However, a twist of fate brought 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 Derek, a 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron tactical aircraft maintenance craftsman, deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
As a teenager in Akron, Ohio, Derek said, he was driven to join the Air Force following 9/11.
"We took the path less traveled," Derek said of the choices he and his brother made to join the armed services.
Their parents, Charles and Melissa, said 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 Derek chose the Air Force, his brother opted for the Army.
"He didn't want to be like his older brother," Derek said with a grin. "He wanted to blaze his own path."
Greg said his brother was one of the biggest supporters of his decision to join the Army.
Despite some good-natured ribbing about each other's chosen service, the Allen brothers say they have found the military has only strengthened their relationship despite their physical distance.
Recently, that special relationship was strengthened even further. Derek was able to look out for his younger brother without even realizing it at the time.
As a member of the A-10 Thunderbolt II phase inspection team here, Derek ensures that the A-10 aircraft are ready to execute their close-air support mission for troops in the field. One December day, two A-10s were providing 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 terminal attack controller that they needed some heavy fire. The aircraft dropped two 500-pound bombs, hitting the target; the hostile fire subsided.
Derek later found out the unit that needed assistance was part of the 101st Airborne Division and 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," Greg said. It was a tremendous confidence boost to watch the A-10 do its work, he added.
"That was a moment where I knew everyone was going to make it back," he said.
Soon afterward, Greg contacted his brother via Facebook asking him to thank the A-10 pilot. Derek said he has always taken pride in his work, but hearing the news of how the type of aircraft he prepares for flight helped to protect his brother increased that pride.
"It's not every day that an older brother truly gets to make sure that the skies over his little brother are safe,” he said. "To know my brother gets to come home to my niece and his wife is a great feeling.”
When the brothers’ respective leaders heard the story, they launched a successful effort to get them together for the holidays. When Greg arrived here, the time they’d spent apart seemed to disappear, the Allens said.
"It was literally like having seen him just yesterday," Derek said of his brother's arrival.
That came as good news to their parents.
"They don't want us to worry," Melissa said. "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,” he said.
For the time being, however, Melissa and her husband said they were thrilled at the thought of their boys 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."