FROM TROUBLEMAKER TO SOLDIER

Evan Sanborn before he enlisted in the Army, above, and in a more recent photo, below. (Click to enlarge)

By DAN NATALE

[Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Evan Sanborn is beginning his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. In fact it is his first.]

Ever thought about taking your crappy life and fixing it by joining the military? Well that’s exactly what one Red Bank man did.

Last Friday, 20-year-old Private Evan Sanborn, an infantryman in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, left Fort Drum in New York to spend nine months in Paktika Province on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Sanborn’s departure, honored last month by Red Bank’s mayor and council, marks another step in a self-motivated turnaround for a onetime troublemaker whose teen years were marked by drug use and occasional homelessness.

While details of his first trip are classified, Sanborn tells redbankgreen that his prior experience preparation under war-like conditions at desert training facility in California adequately prepared him for his present tour, on which he’ll serve as a driver and weapons handler for his unit.

Sanborn said that his division will be working the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, and the Afghan National Security Forces to negotiate with village elders and teach them how to enforce the laws of their country.

“Nervous excitement is the best way to describe the feeling” of returning to war, he said last week. “Our job is to shut down a couple of bases, and to get them to take care of their own country. We’re basically ending the war.”

Although Sanborn will be risking his life in Afghanistan, he considers it an upgrade from his previous lifestyle. As a teenager, Sanborn occasionally got kicked out of his house for being out of control, he and family members said. He would stay at his friends houses when he got the chance, and spent the occasional night on the streets. A photo on his Facebook page shows him shirtless, carrying a bench on his back in Riverside Gardens Park.

“Before he enlisted, he was just moving in and out of our house,” said his twin brother, Eric. “He had to sleep in parking garages and at Riverside Park a few times. He was basically just running around Red Bank, making bad choices.”

Eric said that his brother graduated from Red Bank Regional by the skin of his teeth, and had light problems with drugs.

Sanborn himself agrees, and said that he could feel his life going downhill, which is what prompted him to enlist about a year ago.

“It was a complete 180,” he said. ““I went from being a homeless, pretty-much drug addict to paying my own bills. Now, I have my own apartment. I don’t get in trouble with cops anymore. I’m disciplined, I’m responsible for my own actions, and I think before I act.”

Alana Roolaart, one of the people whose homes he stayed in during his darkest hours, said that Sanborn’s growth as a person has been impressive.

“He went from being this kid on the streets living in [another friend’s] car, or on couches, to being someone that can be trusted to defend our country,” Roolaart said.

Sanborn is touched, he said, that “my parents have changed their attitude towards me, [and] ll my friends see me differently.”

Paul Chalifour, one of Sanborn’s two adoptive fathers, says that although there had been some tough times, he has always felt the same way about his son.

“I always loved him and I always will. But I am much prouder of him now,” Chalifour said.

Sanborn said  he appreciates the status and respect his turnaround has brought him.

“Being in the military is such a highly respected thing,” he said. “You put your life on the line for the rest of the nation and everybody realizes that. One thing they always say is nothing is more important than your life, and you kind of learn that over time.”

At the December 19 meeting of the Red Bank council, Mayor Pasquale Menna praised Sanborn’s service and wished him well overseas.