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KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Army Pfc. Brennon Van Luven had never had a bullet go over his head quite like this.
Soldiers with 2nd Platoon, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), spent a morning gathering biometric data in the village of Dande Fariqan here and talking with the locals about insurgent activity in the area.
After moving across a road, the platoon came under fire from multiple weapons systems including a rocket-propelled grenade.
As bullets snapped overhead, Van Luven found cover and began to scan the village and tree lines for signs of the shooters.
Van Luven, a native of Erie, Pa., is no stranger to being in contact with the enemy. His mine resistant ambush protected vehicle hit an improvised explosive device a couple weeks ago, sending his platoon sergeant home with a shoulder injury.
An avid “Halo” player, he now knows what it is like to have real bullets shot directly at him, but this does not deter him from doing his job.
“I serve because I wanted the discipline that the Army provides,” Van Luven said. “I wanted to make something of myself, have a steady job and be able to stand on my own two feet.”
Besides discipline, the Army has provided Van Luven with another important opportunity: driving.
“Before going through the Joint Readiness Training Center when we deployed, I had never driven a vehicle before,” Van Luven admitted. “The first truck I ever drove was an Army humvee.”
He’s had more time behind the wheel in Afghanistan than in the states and has driven every vehicle in the platoon’s motor pool.
Van Luven enlisted out of high school. Growing up shooting guns and enjoying the outdoors, he figured joining the infantry would be a good idea.
“I enjoy what I do and I love being out here with my guys,” Van Luven said. “We’re all really close.”
He said the hardest part of being in the infantry is pulling long shifts -- especially performing guard duty after coming back from a mission.
Van Luven is a man of few words, but he lets his actions speak for him.
“He’s a really hard worker and never complains,” said Army Sgt. Christopher Walker, Van Luven’s squad leader. “He’s very loyal to his squad and his platoon.”
The 2nd Platoon gave Van Luven his two nicknames: “McLovin” and “Raptor.” According to most, Van Luven resembles the character McLovin played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse in the comedy “Superbad.” Raptor is in reference to the way he runs, closely resembling the dinosaur.
“He loves both his nicknames,” Walker said. “He even tattooed 'raptor' on his arm. He’s kind of like our squad mascot.”
Van Luven doesn’t plan on staying in the Army when he redeploys.
“I want to go back home and go to school with the goal of getting hired by the Pennsylvania State Police,” he said. “My family is pretty close, so I want to work near home so I can be there for them if they need me.”
Van Luven cites his fellow soldiers as his inspiration for continuing to serve his country.
“I love my country, but it sounds like such a cliché when I say it,” he said. “I continue to serve because I want to make sure all my buddies make it home safely and I want to finish what I started here.”