If Dreux Perkins' life were a movie, right about now the restaurant's sound system would cue up John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses."

It's not, but it does: "Ain't that America?"

His myriad trips to the casino, Perkins allows, were "basically an escape — a way to take my mind off everything," his decision to smuggle in cigarettes to an inmate, stupid. "I knew what I was doing was wrong," he says. "But gambling superseded the consequences."


Dreux Perkins came home to Greenville, Illinois, carrying baggage he didn’t have when he was deployed to Iraq with the army’s 101st Airborne: post-traumatic stress disorder and a gambling addiction.
Dreux Perkins came home to Greenville, Illinois, carrying baggage he didn’t have when he was deployed to Iraq with the army’s 101st Airborne: post-traumatic stress disorder and a gambling addiction.

Dreux Perkins (his first name is pronounced drew) graduated in Greenville High School's class of '04, an all-conference linebacker who led the Comets football squad in tackles senior year. In his spare time the happy-go-lucky teenager rode motorcycles and snowboards and hunted with his dad, a retired first sergeant for the army.

A year out of Greenville High, motivated by the September 11 terror attacks and ongoing wars in the Middle East, Perkins followed in his father's military footsteps. His first assignment sent him to Korea as a radio operator. By the time he was reassigned a year later, he had ten soldiers under him and spent his spare time as a volunteer teaching English to Korean children.

But Perkins had enlisted to fight a war, and he lobbied successfully for a transfer to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where the 101st Airborne Division — the venerated "Screaming Eagles" — was preparing for deployment to Baghdad. Training included overseeing "prisoners" at a mock Iraqi jail, where he and his comrades were taught to be firm, fair and consistent.

After the unit landed in Baghdad in April 2008, Perkins assumed a communications role. When the young soldier made it clear that he wanted to be closer to the action, his leaders moved him to a VIP security detail, where he chauffeured top brass and other emissaries into and out of the Green Zone. His thirteen-man platoon managed a quartet of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected tanks, 40,000 pounds of bulletproof steel apiece. "Pretty soon [the tank] getting shot was like, 'whatever,'" Perkins says with a shrug.

"Dreux Perkins was one of my finest junior NCOs. He served daily in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad," attests Capt. Josh Lyons, at the time a second lieutenant who led the platoon. He says he and Perkins occupied the same personnel carrier for about six months, during which they made 151 trips along the Baghdad Airport Road, better known as Route Irish. "Dreux was a great soldier with unlimited potential in the enlisted ranks."

When he said he could handle more, Lyons moved him from driver to gunner. Perkins directed his tank from its turret, where he was able to swivel 360 degrees and fire at insurgents on sniper towers and bridges. Documents from his case indicate that he performed above and beyond. Several months into Perkins' Baghdad tour, the army promoted him to E-5 sergeant. He'd already received several commendation and achievement medals. While on leave over Christmas in 2008, he traveled to Greenville and proposed to his then-girlfriend, Kelly Derrick.

But under the surface, Perkins was struggling. He'd absorbed painful shocks from roadside bombs; medical records indicate that on at least two occasions IEDs (improvised explosive devices) knocked him unconscious. He took the lives of several attackers, and others returned the favor, killing a handful of his buddies over the course of his deployment. Going on four years later, he says he's still haunted by images of flesh-splattered tanks rolling home to the base.

In Baghdad he found it increasingly difficult to transition from battlefield action, during which there was no time to think, to downtime at his housing unit in Camp Liberty, when bouts of boredom led to creeping doubts about the war's purpose.

There was, however, an antidote to the monotony: poker.

Perkins, who says he'd never gambled before, recalls anteing up for his first hand of Texas hold'em. What began as a once-a-week diversion escalated to a nightly routine, fueled by the buzz of energy drinks combined with wagering limits that ballooned to $200 a round. Every now and then, a fellow player's wife would ship over a care package with whiskey disguised as Mott's apple juice.

The U.S. Central Command had banned all forms of gambling in Iraq, and fraternizing with subordinates violates the government's Uniform Code of Military Justice; Perkins knew full well he was breaking the rules, but as long as they kept it to themselves, no one cared. "All that garrison crap goes out the window once you're in Iraq," he explains. When they sat down to play, he'd tell the soldiers around the table not to call him "Sergeant."

Every now and then, the level playing field at the card table bled onto the battlefield, and Perkins would find his authority questioned by a subordinate. But mostly poker provided a much-needed respite from the psychological toll of the war. Gambling with their money at night seemed a fair tradeoff for gambling with their lives by day.

"It was almost like a high," says Perkins. "That's all we looked forward to. Even out on missions, it was all we talked about — how we were going to play cards that night. It got to the point where sometimes we'd start at six and we wouldn't be done until three in the morning."


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11 comments
James Hodges
James Hodges

They already gambled with their lives... what's a little money...?

David F
David F

From the headline: "...when the chips are down." Really guys? That's the best your cubby reporter could hork up, like an old crone coughing up a lung-clam? Embarrassing.

Ruth Ann
Ruth Ann

A few judgemental people out there.Not everyoone that was in combat.suffers from PTSD.Let's support those who suffer from PTSD. Jim M. is right. Work with PTSD patients at the VA and you will learn to understnad them and love them.

Brad Hicks
Brad Hicks

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleepIs cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bitIs five times better business than paradin' in full kit.Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

(excerpted from Rudyard Kipling, "Tommy," Barracks-Room Ballads, 1892. http://faxmentis.org/html/kipl...

Trailer Trash
Trailer Trash

Hmm... an AIR FORCE combat vet? Sitting in a shelter at on an airfield is not exactly being a 91B door kicker...Being a "Combat Vet".. does not excuse anyone from anything. Every SINGLE person who served in Afghanistan OR Iraq VOLUNTEERED to be there. Relation does not equal causation...A PRISON GUARD? Prison guards are nothing more than people who could not make it onto police forces.

BILL
BILL

Really? I served in COMBAT in VIETNAM for 34 months and do not have a gambling or DRUG problem. I also have been a Correctional Officer and never smuggled anything in .

lonedog
lonedog

Nothing new to this. Audi Murphy gambled away every dime he made.

Jim M
Jim M

Gambling addiction is a disease like heroin or cocaine. It helps reduce depression, you get a high, and the more you play the better win or lose. Usually people bottom out when they've lost everything and some take other measures to keep playing, lying, stealing, borrowing, etc. It is very very serious and not enough is being done to help those. A 12 step program is really not the answer.

Arthur Wiederhold
Arthur Wiederhold

As usual we are kicked to the curb. After using and abusing us, the military throws us out like so much trash. Nothing new here.

James Hodges
James Hodges

Trailer Trash... ummm yep that sounds about right...

 
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