New York battle buddies become brothers in arms
October 20, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- When Pvt. Jereld Vanhook, Company A, 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, arrived in Basic Combat Training nine weeks ago, his "brother," Pfc. Omari Paul was by his side.
Vanhook and Paul are not biological brothers, but the two friends from Brooklyn, N.Y., have lived together since 2007 and frequently refer to each other as brothers.
Vanhook said at 17, he and his older sister were kicked out their home after a big fight that stemmed from problems between his mother's birth children and his stepfather's children.
"Luckily, Omari was there the same day," Vanhook said.
Paul invited Vanhook to stay at his home, and the two have been living together ever since.
"He was my best friend, and I'm not going to just let him sit there and fall if I can do something about it. So I just picked him up the best way I could." Paul said. "The best thing that I could do was just to keep him in high hopes. I can't really just let him sit there and just dwell on the negatives and negatives, because it'll suck you in. Once you get in, it's kind of hard to get out. So I just pulled him under my wing the best I could."
Vanhook said he doesn't take what Paul and his family did for granted.
"He could have said, 'I don't know what to do for you. I don't think my family would let you (stay).' He actually said, 'You know what? Come on. Come to my house and we'll explain it to my mom later.' I really feel grateful that she was open to the idea. I could've been in a shelter somewhere, waiting to be placed in housing."
That was not an option that Paul's mother, Evelyn Sutton, was willing to embrace.
"I don't like to see a child out in the street," Sutton said.
Vanhook lived with Paul and his family throughout high school and they later studied at the same college. Motivated by Paul's sister, who had served in the military, the two decided to enlist in the Army Reserves. Initially, Paul and Vanhook chose different military occupational specialties, but Paul said he changed his mind at the last minute and the two wound up in different platoons of the same basic training company.
"We had this little plan. We were going to go into basic and we were going to try and stay under the radar. When we got here, it didn't last too long," Paul said.
Paul and Vanhook were both chosen as platoon leaders at the same time early in basic training.
"For me to get picked, I felt honored. I never expected to come into the military and be in any leadership position at all," Vanhook said. "And just to see that me and my brother -- we became (platoon leaders) basically at the same time -- I felt that maybe I'm doing something correct and they noticed."
Staff Sgt. Robert Clayton, a drill sergeant in Vanhook's platoon, said that choosing Vanhook as a platoon leader was a no-brainer. He said he thinks Paul and Vanhook's story illustrates how resilience can lead to success.
"Paul and Vanhook are motivators. Especially with what they've been through. It shows people you can overcome your problems. Come to the Army and use those problems you've had in the past to strengthen you and make you a better Soldier."
Staff Sgt. Marquita Daniels, one of Paul's drill sergeants, said she hopes their story will serve as a reminder that you can overcome personal hardship and be successful in the Army.
"Pfc. Paul is a natural-born leader. He stood out from Day One," Daniels said. "I wasn't aware that he had a brother (here), until one day I actually heard him say they were brothers. I thought it was a joke. Both of them are very high-speed Soldiers."
Capt. Sherric Nelson, commander of Co. A, 3-13th, said the synergy between the Soldiers is clearly visible.
"They motivate the company together. They always perform tasks together, even though they're not in the same platoon," Nelson said. "They push each other on the physical fitness test. They're just a positive (duo)."
Vanhook said that working with Paul while in BCT is an advantage.
"It feels great knowing that I have someone that I already had a connection with before the Army," he said. "We already know how (the) other works. We know how we think. We know who's going to need help doing something or who doesn't."
Vanhook said since the events in 2007, he has reconciled with his birth family.
"I was born and raised in North Carolina, so family is a very big thing. I say, all families fight. It doesn't matter where you come from. Eventually you get to that point where attitudes boil over."
The Soldiers are scheduled to graduate Oct. 27. Vanhook's and Paul's families are planning to attend Family Day and graduation events together.
"There's really no bad blood between any of our families. We realize that things happen. (What matters is) how we adapt to it and keep moving," Vanhook said.
Sutton said she is looking forward to reuniting with Paul and Vanhook during Family Day.
"I'm happy they're doing something constructive," she said. "This is part of their destiny. I just like to see the smiles on their faces."
After graduating, Vanhook and Paul will move on to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where they will attend Advanced Individual Training as health care specialists. After returning home, both plan to finish their college educations; Paul in electrical engineering and Vanhook in accounting and business financing.
Both said they are considering going active duty after finishing their educations.
"I'm actually leaning toward that direction," Vanhook said. "You can't really beat it, especially if I get the chance to work with my brother again."