Face of Defense: Father, Son Reunite in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — It’s not often that a father and son meet in a com­bat zone, but that’s what hap­pened when Mis­souri Army Nation­al Guard Staff Sgt. Robert W. Phar­ris reunit­ed with his son, Marine Corps Cpl. Ben­jamin J. Phar­ris here Nov. 17.
The last time the two had seen each oth­er was Christ­mas 2009, when Cpl. Phar­ris was home on leave.

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan
Army Staff Sgt. Robert W. Phar­ris, left, greets his son, Marine Cpl. Ben­jamin J. Phar­ris, at Kan­da­har Air­field, Afghanistan, Nov. 17, 2010.
U.S. Army pho­to by 1st Lt. Andrew B. Adcock
Click to enlarge

Staff Sgt. Phar­ris now is serv­ing in Afghanistan on his first deploy­ment as a mem­ber of the Nan­garhar Agri-Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Team IV, with Task Force Bas­togne.

“We’re one com­po­nent of rebuild­ing the Afghan infra­struc­ture. We take grad­u­ates from Nan­garhar Uni­ver­si­ty and work with them as they improve their agri­cul­tur­al and farm­ing skills,” the staff sergeant said.

First enlist­ing in the Army in 1981, and lat­er in the Army Nation­al Guard, Phar­ris has more than 14 years of ser­vice in a vari­ety of assign­ments. Pri­mar­i­ly serv­ing as an infantry­man, he also has served as a drill sergeant and recruiter. After leav­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice in 1997 and expe­ri­enc­ing an 11-year break, Phar­ris re-joined the Mis­souri Army Nation­al Guard in 2008 after he learned that an infantry unit was being formed.

“I sur­prised my son by hav­ing him show up at my re-enlist­ment cer­e­mo­ny. He had no idea I was re-enlist­ing,” Phar­ris said.

Phar­ris’ Marine son, also on his first deploy­ment, is serv­ing at Kan­da­har Air­field as an indi­vid­ual aug­mentee sup­ply spe­cial­ist with the 184th Expe­di­tionary Sus­tain­ment Com­mand, a Mis­sis­sip­pi Army Nation­al Guard unit that assumed the respon­si­bil­i­ties of Joint Sus­tain­ment Com­mand-Afghanistan, Oct. 17. “As a Marine indi­vid­ual aug­mentee, I had no idea I was com­ing to a Nation­al Guard unit. It’s been a great expe­ri­ence so far and I want to con­tin­ue to learn and do well,” the Marine said.

Mil­i­tary tra­di­tion runs deep in the Phar­ris fam­i­ly. In addi­tion to Cpl. Phar­ris’ father, his moth­er, grand­fa­ther, and great-grand­fa­ther served in the mil­i­tary. His great grand­fa­ther served in the South Pacif­ic dur­ing World War II. The Marine recount­ed one of his child­hood mem­o­ries that buoyed his deci­sion to join the mil­i­tary.

“When my mom received an award on the parade field,” he said, “I knew that I would serve. The only ques­tion that was left unan­swered for quite some time was which ser­vice I would join.” Phar­ris enlist­ed in the Marine Corps in 2007 after com­plet­ing high school ear­ly.

Phar­ris said he’s ful­ly sup­port­ive of his son’s deci­sion to serve in the mil­i­tary. “He has done very well and I’m look­ing for­ward to his pro­mo­tion to sergeant,” the father said of his son. “He has con­tin­ued the family’s mil­i­tary tra­di­tion with the same pride in ser­vice.”

While deploy­ment is nev­er easy on fam­i­lies, the father and son agree that being togeth­er is one of the best things about deploy­ing to a com­bat zone. “Like any dad, I wor­ry about my son. I just wish we served in clos­er prox­im­i­ty to each oth­er,” Phar­ris said.

“I love it that my dad is over here the same time as I am,” the son said.

The father and son have found effec­tive ways to deal with stress while serv­ing in a com­bat zone. Both like to exer­cise dur­ing their “down” time, and hon­ing their video-game and card-play­ing skills.

“I came to Afghanistan to make a tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence,” the father said. “Hope­ful­ly, 20 years from now, some­one will remem­ber an Amer­i­can who was here and be thank­ful their life is bet­ter.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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