Childhood friends recount how they reunited in war zone
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Chris Gendron and Gary Beaver attended Altama Elementary and Jane Macon Middle schools in Brunswick at the same time in their childhoods, but lost touch with each other when they attended different high schools.
They would run into each other in Brunswick from time to time and talk briefly.
"We had seen each other in the years prior," Gendron said. "We were more than acquaintances, but we weren't best friends."
Then, in 2002, they met in one of the most unlikeliest of places -- 9,000 miles away at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
Gendron was serving in the Air Force and was assigned to an Army Special Forces team that had just started its rotation in Afghanistan.
"I was on my way home (from Afghanistan) when my leadership asked me to stay a little longer and go back outside the wire (the protected compound) with a new team," Gendron said.
He had no idea a sergeant assigned to the special forces team was Beaver, his childhood friend.
"We recognized each other immediately, and his (team) believed it to be a good omen for operations," he said. "(It) was a very warm welcome."
Beaver said one of his fellow soldiers told him about a man from Brunswick who was at the base and that he knew him.
"I was shocked to run into somebody from Brunswick," Beaver said. "I immediately linked up with him."
Beaver said Gendron volunteered to serve with his unit once he realized it needed someone with his training.
The two worked security details together, with Gendron assigned as the Air Force's joint terminal attack controller. His duties included going on patrols with the Special Forces team and calling in air strikes.
"We'd be out at night and talk about the chances we'd be serving with each other 9,000 miles from home," Gendron said. "It gave us a chance to reminisce."
Beaver said he and Gendron would talk about their common past.
"We'd listen to 1980s music, talk about St. Simons Island, reminisce about pretty girls and driving down Altama Avenue in Brunswick," he said.
That chance meeting has created a bond that remains today. Gendron, who retired as a master sergeant in 2008, says he and Beaver, who is a sergeant major in the Army National Guard and works in a civilian job in Washington, D.C., remain in contact with each other.
"We discuss what our military friends are up to," he said.
They talk about the latest developments in Special Forces and Air Force Special Operations, he said. They also talk about how Brunswick has grown and what their mutual friends from Glynn County are up to.
"Of all the teams I could have been assigned to, I got his," he said.