By Sgt. Melissa Stewart, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist December 14, 2011
ZHARAY DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- Specialists Craig Pruden and Anthony Gaston, while not biologically related, are like brothers in every other sense of the word.
The friendship between the two Soldiers began years ago in Woodbridge, Va., where Pruden and Gaston met in high school science class and immediately hit it off. Two weeks after they became friends, they realized they lived only a street away from each other, and they began spending more and more time together.
"Anthony and I got along pretty well, so he was kind of like that brother that I could actually relate to, and I was the only brother he ever had," Pruden said.
Pruden is a member of a large, loving Family, and he has three brothers and two sisters. Gaston was raised by his grandparents and had no siblings. Not long after the boys became friends, Gaston left home, and Pruden's parents accepted him into their Family as one of their own.
"My Family took him in and loved him as if he was their own. If you ask my grandma -- our grandma -- all she says is that he is her boy and she loves him to death," Pruden said.
After Gaston moved in to the Prudens' home, the Family took a career opportunity in Bolivia, and the boys' friendship only grew stronger as they finished high school together in Bolivia.
The decision to join the Army came down to a game of chance. Pruden, who is about a year older than Gaston, wanted to join the Army for the experience and the college money. Gaston was not as fond of the idea of being a Soldier, but the two decided that the best two out of three at the game of "rock, paper, scissors" would decide their future. Pruden won. They joined the Army soon after.
"I wanted to join the Army. (Gaston) wasn't old enough, and he didn't want to; he wanted to stay in Bolivia," Pruden said. "So I said, 'We'll do it over 'rock, paper, scissors.' So we did it, best two out of three, and I took the cake."
When asked why they joined the Army, the two each gave their reasons in sequence, one answering for the other and for the two of them at the same time.
"I didn't just want to go to college, struggle through the first four years, graduate with a whole bunch of bills and then get a mediocre job," Gaston said. "I wanted to actually make a stable background first."
The close friendship continued in the Army when they went to basic training together, and they worked hard to get the same first duty station.
"It was July of 2008."
"It was cool."
"It was quick."
"It was easier than we thought."
"The hardest part was getting us the same duty station, because (Gaston) was originally scheduled to go to (Fort) Bragg, and I was scheduled to go to White Sands (Missile Range), so we had to hustle," Pruden said. "We had to pull all the strings we had to get him to White Sands as well."
While at White Sands Missile Range, Pruden received orders to deploy to Iraq, and Gaston again worked hard to make sure he also was on that deployment.
"Once we got to White Sands, my company was deploying but his was not, so we decided to get him into the deployment as well," Pruden said. "Then we deployed with 2nd Engineer Battalion, and they were attached to 1st Infantry Brigade."
"I wanted to deploy as fast as possible, so I could come back and deploy again," Gaston said. "If I was deploying first, he would try to deploy as well."
While the two were not in the same platoon, or normally on the same base, they were in the same country together, and that was enough. When they were on the same base, they would coordinate times to workout together and hang out as much as possible.
"Iraq was so hot that if you didn't wear eye-pro, your eyeballs would burn in the wind!" Gaston jokingly said to Pruden, about their deployment to Iraq.
Even though they were still in Iraq, they began to plan their next duty station. They looked at the deployment schedule and saw that 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) was scheduled to deploy to Afghan-istan in April 2011. After some deliberate planning and paperwork, the two received orders to go to Fort Drum together and deploy with A Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion.
The pair said having a "brother" along wherever they go makes the hardships of military life easier.
"Whenever you go to a new place, you don't really know anybody, and it is kind of awkward, but we don't really have that because we always go places together," Gaston said.
"It's good to have a good influence, because we don't smoke or drink or get into those questionable scenes, so just having somebody that is able to keep you on track so you can stay focused on your main priorities and goals, which is your career, it really helps," Pruden said.
Gaston and Pruden were at Fort Drum for less than a month before they deployed to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, with A Company, 3rd BSTB. On their current deployment, both men have been wounded in action during combat operations, and both received awards for valor under fire. Gaston received an Army Commendation Medal with "V" device, and Pruden has been recommended for a Bronze Star.
Throughout this deployment, the two are much closer, and they have more time to spend together.
"Working out is the biggest thing," Pruden said. "We have a large workout routine that we stick to, so we can stay physically fit."
Pruden said he intends to make a career out of the Army, while Gaston intends to leave the Army and go to school when his contract is up. The two do plan on staying together for the remainder of Gaston's contract.
"My end goal is to become a warrant officer and fly helicopters," Pruden said. "That's why our next step (will be into) some type of aviation."