“This event just solidified the fact that he was willing to do anything for his country and for those that he cared about.”
— Don Penner on U.S. Army Ranger specialist and his friend of 15 years, Casey Greene
About every three days, Don Penner would get on Facebook and chat with his friend, Casey Greene, a specialist with the U.S. Army Rangers.
And Penner always asked his fellow Moffat County High School graduate the same question.
“Every time I talked to him, I would say, ‘Hey, man, are you staying safe?’” said Penner, who lives north of Craig. “And he would just say, ‘I’m trying to, but it’s hard.’”
Penner had good reason to ask. Greene, 22, was stationed in Afghanistan and serving his third deployment.
A few weeks before, Greene described how he’d narrowly missed a bullet while he was walking from his room to the dining hall, Penner said.
“He seemed kind of sure that he was going to get hit at some point,” he added.
Then, this weekend, Penner got a call from Greene’s stepfather, Corey Wagner. Penner’s classmate, his confidante and the man who always knew how to lighten someone else’s day, had been shot when his unit was attacked by insurgents in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province.
“The first thing that went through my mind was what I told Casey the last time I saw him,” Penner said.
It was the same thing Penner always told his childhood friend: Don’t get hit.
‘We were terrified’
Greene was injured Saturday in Wardak province, Afghanistan. He suffered abdominal injuries, has undergone two surgeries and is expected to make a full recovery, his grandmother Marylou Wisdom said.
She was at the post office Saturday sending Greene a package when she got the call.
“Your mind goes into overdrive,” she said. “We were terrified is a short way of putting it.”
The same attack that injured Greene also took the life of his team leader, Sgt. Tyler N. Holtz, 22, of Dana Point, Calif.
He was killed when insurgents attacked their unit with small arms fire, a news release from the U.S. Department of Defense reported.
“Poor Casey keeps asking about him,” Wisdom said. “He doesn’t know yet that he didn’t make it.”
On Wednesday morning, she was preparing to visit Greene at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
So too was Penner. He and Greene have supported each other during turbulent times, and this time is no different, Penner said.
Anatomy of a friendship
Penner and Greene first met each other when they were 7 years old.
Their friendship wasn’t unlike the close bond that is wont to develop between boys of a certain age. They liked to play war with toy guns or play war-themed video games, Penner said, and they had the occasional sleepover.
But, where many childhood friendships dissolve with time or distance, Penner and Greene’s did not.
“Casey and I have been through some strenuous life events, especially on his part,” Penner said.
And that, he said, is why their friendship has survived.
“I was almost like his brother,” Penner said, adding, “We were the ones who talked to each other about this stuff.”
The two graduated Moffat County High School in 2007. Later, when Penner was a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Greene was working in Craig, the two talked of enlisting in the Army together.
But, here, their paths diverged.
Penner joined the ROTC and is now a second lieutenant in the National Guard. Greene “wanted to be the best of the best,” Penner said, so he enlisted with the Army Rangers.
“Casey is one of the toughest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Penner said. “He’s an extremely resilient individual and he always knows how to make other people happy, even when the situation’s not a happy one.”
Greene has always been a hero in Penner’s eyes, he said. And that, like their friendship, remains the same now.
“This event just solidified the fact that he was willing to do anything for his country and for those that he cared about,” Penner said.
Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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