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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Up until a few days ago, Staff Sgt. Derek Allen hadn't seen his brother, Army Cpl. Greg Allen, in a long time. However, an interesting twist of fate spurred their separate services to bring 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 was driven to join the Air Force following 9/11.
"We took the path less traveled," he said of the choices he and his brother made to join the armed services.
Their parents, Charles and Melissa , recalled 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 instead.
"He didn't want to be like his older brother," Derek said with a grin, "he wanted to blaze his own path."
However, Greg said his brother was one of the biggest supporters of his decision to join the Army.
Besides his wife, "(my brother) was only person who really understood," he said.
Despite some good-natured ribbing about each other's chosen service, the Allen brothers 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 Thuderbolt II phase inspection team here, Derek ensures that the A-10s 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. Dropping two 500-pound bombs, the aircraft hit the target and 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 later, adding it was tremendous confidence boost to watch the A-10 do its work.
"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 aircraft he prepares for flight helped protect his brother increased it.
"I, and the rest of the guys on our phase team, directly affected the combat airpower that was able to help out not only my brother but all the guys in his unit," he said. "It's not every day that an older brother truly gets to make sure that the skies over his little brother are safe.
"To know my brother gets to come home to my niece and his wife is a great feeling," he said.
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 spent apart seemed to disappear.
"It was literally like having seen him just yesterday," Derek said of his brother's arrival.
That comes as good news to their parents.
"They do a lot of shielding of us; they don't want us to worry," said Melissa. "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."
For the time being however, Melissa and her husband are thrilled at the thought of her sons 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."