TIKRIT, Iraq – As I watched them interact with each other before the interview, it was like they had known one another their entire lives. However, the friendship between Staff Sgt. Paul Berkland and Staff Sgt. Ike Richardson, both Soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan., had only begun a couple of years ago while both Soldiers were deployed with the brigade during the surge.
Interestingly, their deployment during the surge marked the second time Berkland and Richardson had deployed together. The first time was while both Soldiers were serving in Iraq’s Diyala Province with the 3rd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, an Army National Guard unit from Tennessee.
“I had never met Sergeant Richardson personally while we were deployed with the guard,” said Staff Sgt. Berkland, a combat medic from Corning, Calif. “I saw him in the (dining facility) at (Forward Operating Base) Caldwell probably on four or five different occasions when I went down there (from) FOB Cobra.”
After serving with the Tennessee National Guard, the Soldiers went their separate ways only to meet again as fellow Soldiers on active duty with the 4th IBCT.
“Though we didn’t do everything together, when I’m talking about the 278th (and) the BSTB he knows what I’m talking about,” said Richardson, a food service noncommissioned in charge from Eufaula, Ala. “(And, it’s the same) when he’s talking about everything that he’s gone through and has experienced (because) it was around the same time. It’s funny how our lives mirror each other.”
When it came to choosing someone to pin him for his promotion ceremony, June 1, Berkland said Richardson was an easy choice.
He said the ceremony presented an opportunity to show more than just two people with similar military backgrounds coming together again. It was an opportunity to inspire people to be more cordial toward each other because you never know if or when you may meet that person again.
“When I initially learned that I was going to be promoted, I was like, ‘Wow,’ because there are so many people I could choose to promote me within our company and brigade,” said Berkland.
“But, on my second thoughts I was like, ‘Wait a minute there’s a guy in my unit that I’ve known for a while that’s about as decent a person and a decent a human being that you’d ever want to meet,’” he added. “It would just be such a great story and would inspire so many people; so, why not? How can you pass up an opportunity like that to inspire young people to get to know each other better and be friendlier toward one another?”
Richardson said he was honored to have been the one who pinned the “rocker” on Berkland’s chest and has learned a lot from him.
“I’ve watched him build a trauma center from his hands from scratch and watched him lay the foundation and build it up,” said Richardson. “I was amazed at how it came up. He just left a legacy on (Forward Operating Base Bernstein), and it (was dedicated) to two guys that we lost during the last deployment. So, that showed me his heart and that’s the kind of person I can relate to.”
“Words cannot express the amount of respect that I have for him and what I learned about him as a person,” he concluded. “Those are the kind of things I like to try to exhibit in my leadership.”
As their current deployment comes to an end, Richardson and Berkland plan to stay in touch with each other. Both Soldiers also plan on retirement and going back to Tennessee.