Former British soldier joins U.S. Army to serve in Afghanistan
January 12, 2010
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- At first glance Robert Sumner looks like any other American soldier - until he speaks. Then Sumner's thick British accent comes out.
Now a member of the Army's 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, serving in Kunar province, Afghanistan, 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 high school in 1996, he enlisted in the British Army, serving in Cyprus, Hong Kong, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Northern Ireland, until 2003.
In 2004, Sumner began working for Aegis, a private security firm, and continued working there until 2005.
In 2005, he came to the U.S. for the first time to attend training in Arkansas and later met Katherine, the woman who would become his wife.
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 at 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 personnel 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 vast experience in personnel security operations as a PSD team leader for Lt. Col. Frederick O'Donnell, the commander of 1st Battalion, 32th Infantry Regiment.
"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."
Staff Sgt. Mike Cruz, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the personnel security detachment and Sumner's squad leader, has also gotten to know Sumner over the deployment.
"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."
"British soldiers often said they fight for the queen. Over here in America we fight for the American people," Sumner said. "American people have been so good to me. When I went back to the U.S. for my rest and recreation, 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 in a different way."
"I'm now 31 years old, but I still got a long way to go," he continued. "I love the Army and I feel that I can do so much more."