Spc. Joel Howard, left, and Spc. Bryan Couillard, both infantrymen providing security for the Paktya Provincial Reconstruction Team, and both of C Company, 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts National Guard, prepare for a patrol at Forward Operating Base Gardez Dec. 15. After having met in high school and graduating Basic Combat Training together, they are now deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Photo by Staff Sgt. Barry Loo.
PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Two high school friends now work side by side as infantrymen in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Specialists Bryan Couillard and Joel Howard, both from Lowell, MA, and members of C Company, 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts National Guard, met in history class during their sophomore year at Dracut High School. They learned, played sports and got in trouble together.
But not too much trouble.
When their high school years came to an end, it was time to transition to the adult world. Howard decided to join the Army first as a way to pay for college and “get a good head” on his shoulders, as he puts it.
Couillard soon followed his friend, wanting to change the direction his life was heading.
“It just [kind of] clicked. Join the Army and then maybe you can straighten out your life; be a little more self-confident doing something good,” said Couillard.
They showed up together for Basic Combat Training at Fort Benning, GA, March 5, 2008, and went though the course side by side as “battle buddies,” an Army term for your partner in both garrison and combat.
Both Soldiers agreed their friendship helped them through the rigorous training.
“It was definitely easier going through Basic Training with one of your best friends by your side,” Howard said.
They graduated Basic Training from the same platoon then joined the same squad of C Company, 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, based out of Cambridge, MA.
Both Howard and Coulliard agree joining the Army gave them benefits they probably wouldn’t have gotten if they stayed civilians.
“I'm definitely a lot stronger mentally and physically,” Howard said.
“You put on this uniform and it makes you feel like a completely different person. It gives you some pride,” said Couillard.
Now their unit is serving in Afghanistan as the security force for Paktya Provincial Reconstruction Team, helping the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan provide public services and development projects.
Together, they escort subject-matter experts to schools, clinics and meetings with village elders throughout the province. These missions provide meaningful experiences they couldn’t have imagined while they were still in high school.
“It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Howard said.