July 18, 2012NORTH HAVERHILL — When he wasn't scoring goals for the soccer team Peter Wright was always a defensive specialist during his athletic career at Woodsville High — the shutdown guy basketball coach Jamie Walker assigned to guard the opponent's best shooter. Baseball coach Willy Kingsbury stationed Wright in center field — a speedster suited to tracking down long fly balls.
Wright is still defending but the stakes are higher than when he wore the green and white of the Engineers. Olive drab is the team color for Wright, now a specialist in the U.S. Army who recently returned from a yearlong tour of duty in Afghanistan. In the last high school basketball game of his career, Woodsville lost a state tournament playoff game to Derryfield School and the defeat was devastating but it pales in comparison to dodging rocket propelled grenades in Kabul.
"Unbelievable. All of a sudden we started getting hit. First we're walking down the street and hear an explosion. And then all of sudden more and more explosion, then you hear small arms fire. As you're walking down the street there's metal containers stacked next to me and you just hear ping—ping—ping. And then the r.p.g's (rocket propelled grenades) come flying over and we saw eight total and they flew right over our heads down the lane of the street — the sound of the bullets fly by your ears or the r.p.g's going by, or people running or trying to get cover. Instincts took over, my military training kicked over, everything that I ever knew or was taught all kicked in. Never thought it would," Wright said. "It was an unbelievable feeling. It's an adrenaline rush. You live it up while you have it but when it's done you thank God that it's over."
The devastating basketball loss against Derryfield seemed far away and long ago.
"The Derryfield game, you don't even remember those things when you put it into comparison with going to war, being shot at. The first time we got into combat I couldn't even remember those little details to any story just because you're so focused and so on edge," Wright said. "I will say that throughout sports in high school and being able to be a leader, helped me excel through my career in the military — taking charge and taking over situations where I needed to take over."
Wright, 20, graduated from Woodsville High in 2010 and within six days of receiving his diploma he was headed to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He wanted a quick change and got one.
"The biggest thing was throughout high school there were times that I didn't challenge myself and in the end it was 'Well, do I want to go to college even though I've been slacking through high school?' Or do I want to enlist and do something," Wright said. "I needed to get away before I could become a better person."
At basic training Wright quickly discovered he wasn't in high school anymore when the drill sergeants abruptly introduced themselves.
"We get there and there's probably 200 of us on the bus — we get off the bus and all of a sudden there's 15 people with these big brown caps on and they're just staring at us. They're all quiet so you're thinking 'This is all going to be good.' They form you up in line and you grab your bags and then that's when it begins," Wright said. "You get down to your barracks where you're going to live and that's where the fun begins. You dump your bags. People are in your face, screaming at you. It's intense."
After 10 weeks of basic at Fort Leonard Wood he graduated and spent the next five months in advanced individual training at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, training for the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade. Wright works in military intelligence and has already achieved the rank of specialist. He completed his intelligence training in December of 2010. In January of 2011 he left Fort Huachuca and was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash. — the opportunity to go overseas arose quickly.
"Moved out there and they — all of a sudden got a call, who wants to deploy? And I'm the first guy that raised my hand. 'Yeah, me.' So I got there in January, we left in June," Wright said. "Went to Afghanistan."
Wright arrived in Afghanistan in June of 2011 and returned stateside just last month —back to Fort Lewis. He's currently on leave, spending time with his family in North Haverhill. The rustic comforts of the North Country were nowhere to be found in Kabul.
"You get there and it's just a time warp," Wright said. "There's such a distance between our culture and their culture. Just seeing the way they live, living outside. Cooking with huge propane tanks that not only do they use for making bombs but they use just to cook household goods — whether they live in shacks or actually do have houses — the rich are the rich and the poor are the poor and there's no in-between. There's no middle class."
Wright can't get into specifics about his intelligence assignment but his world opened up greatly.
"I worked with NATO. I worked with all our allies, mainly German, Portuguese, Spanish, French," Wright said. "Ultimately our whole goal was to transition the Afghans to the next step — for them to take control, which they did while we were there. They took control of everything. And it was to mentor them to be able to function on their own."
Wright had the best perch to evaluate the ongoing transition for the Afghans.
"Just being there you see huge improvements, you see that they really care and they're trying to make a difference," Wright said. "And it is tough but they're not giving up and that's the important thing that I think we instilled in them. The U.S. are a group of people that don't like to give up — we push them to strive for that and they did — and they still are."
Wright has two more years to go on his current enlistment and he doesn't know what the future holds. He hopes to spend the rest of his enlistment in the United States but said it's possible he could be deployed again.
"There's a time, I think, in everyone's career where they feel like they're at a point in which they're ready to move on — as far as being in the military and then in an intelligence standpoint — I'm not at that (point) myself, I don't believe I am. I think I can get higher, get better, be smarter — before I make the jump (to civilian life)," Wright said. "I've got until 2014, my contract's finished. But I plan on doing more. My mindset if I get to eight years (of service), well I said 'I've already got to eight so I might as well do 20.' "
Wright's parents are Welma Robinson of North Haverhill and John Wright of Littleton.
"They were both supportive, which is good," Wright said.
Wright is thankful to be home for now. Still the athlete, he's thankful to enjoy a run in the North Country's fresh air — different than air quality in Kabul. On July 29 he returns to Fort Lewis in Washington.
"When you run outside (in Kabul) you come back and you cough. It's disgusting. Dust, and they burn everything and you're just inhaling that on a daily basis. Not a lot of people run outside on military bases in Afghanistan. One, it's too hot. Two, there's too much dust," Wright said. "You're inside running on treadmills and there's usually a line to get on one."
Peter's little brother, David, is following in his brother's combat boot steps. David, 19, is scheduled to leave on Aug. 20 for basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia. After basic he is scheduled to move on to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, a field artillery base, to study to be a cannon crew member. Like his older brother, David opted for the service over college.
"I wanted to be more. I wanted to mean something and wear a uniform and be part of something big," David said.
Peter supports his brother fully.
"There's no doubt in my mind that he can do it," Peter said. "Even though it's tough and people are going to yell at you (in basic training) they're doing it because it's their job. He's hardheaded. He knows he wants it and he's going to go get it."
Their mother supports both her boys.
"I'm proud of them. I'm not really worried. I was worried about Pete when he was over in Afghanistan obviously," Robinson said. "And the thought of both of them being somewhere — you know it does bother me a little bit. But I'm proud of them. I know they're going to do well. A lot of kids are not even picking that, I'm not sure why. But somebody has to defend us."
With plenty of scuffles during childhood, Peter has prepared his little brother for what lies ahead.
"A lot of it was I wanted him to be able to stick up for himself and be able to handle himself," said Peter of his battles with David over the years. "The way I probably did it isn't the way I would go tell some other two brothers to do it, at all. It's not something that I would recommend that every family needs to do. Certain families, you beat up on one another. I think I've got him to a point where he can handle himself and he can manage on his own. He doesn't need me or anybody else to stick up for him."
Those brotherly battles are in the past. And Wright's high school heroics seem ancient history as well when viewed through a soldier's scope. The green and white Woodsville uniforms are long tucked away and no one's keeping score anymore. Despite the distance from center field where he once roamed — Wright's still a defensive specialist.
"What really bothers me is that people take things that they have for granted. Simple as a glass of milk every day and not being able to have that for a year — or even at all like these Afghans. People take such advantage of that and they forget the little things. They forget that the military's here," Wright said. "They forget that people wake up and put a uniform on to protect what they have. There is a big picture (in Afghanistan) and we're trying to get there. I think we will accomplish the goals to get there. It's tough. It's going to be tough, like anything. We have an end in sight, something that we see that we want. And (the Afghans) have something that they see that they want. In the middle we're going to meet and accomplish that. They've always had the worst of everything. For us to be able to give them hope and give them dreams of change — that pays for itself in the end."