Hinsdale resident tells story of his Army friendship

The sedate suburbs couldn't compare with the daily unpredictability that U.S. Army Reservists and inseparable buddies Bob Allen and Brad Drake had faced on a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Despite their exhausting, unrelenting assignment helping run the Bagram Theater Internment Facility as military police in 2003-04, the two Hinsdale South graduates had grown to love the grind. From going on middle-of-the-night helicopter "ring routes" to collect enemy detainees to a harrowing evacuation of prisoners when the jail caught fire, life was never dull.

"We were really good at what we did," Hinsdale resident Drake said of the experience in his early 20s. "There was a war going on, and that's what I wanted to continue doing."

Allen was particularly enamored with the military, said Drake, who earlier this year published a chronicle of those years of combat and camaraderie titled, "Bob, Afghanistan and Me."

The two knew of each other but had little contact at South due to Allen being a year younger. Drake was already serving when he saw Allen show up to the Arlington Heights Army Reserve Center one day as a civilian. Following a temporary loan to a different camp, Drake returned in the fall of 2002 to discover Allen was now in his unit.

"We became fast friends. We had a lot in common," Drake said, citing their shared taste in music. "We always agreed that Alice in Chains had the best unplugged album ever."

Their company was activated in 2003 at the outset of the Iraq War. But the marching orders defied expectations.

"They ended up sending us to Afghanistan instead."

The jail they oversaw was housed in a 50-year-old former Soviet-era MiG aircraft repair shop next to Bagram Airfield, 10,000 feet up in the Hindu Kush mountains. The cells were primitive and inmates used porta-a-johns.

"Twice a day we would have to haul out the toilets. They called that job 'The Brown Mile,' " Drake quipped.

The number of detainees swelled as the war wore on.

"I lost like 20 or 30 pounds. It was high stress," he said. "I probably averaged three-and-a-half, four hours of sleep a night."

They also lost comrades in battle. Thankfully Drake had someone with whom to share the journey.

"Bob and I just became real, real tight on that deployment. We did everything together."

The pair returned to the States in April of 2004, and Drake still gets choked up recalling their disembarkation at Bangor, Maine.

"There's this gauntlet of VFW and American Legion people, and they're cheering and going nuts and giving us hugs."

But civilian life was a tough adjustment. In March of 2005 Drake got a call from his unit: high-quality MPs were needed back in Bagram. He and Allen accepted the call.

That would be the last deployment for Drake. Allen stayed in, and regular contact between the two became more difficult over the next decade.

On July 1, 2018, a mutual friend phoned Drake to break the news that Allen had died of a heart attack. He was 36.

"I drove up to the bar where we used to hang out, sat at the same spot and played the whole Alice in Chains album," Drake said. "I wanted Bob Allen's story to be told. He was a soldier's soldier."

- profile by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean