Your Brother Was Deployed to Iraq With You?
A lot of people are surprised when they find out that my brother and I were deployed at the same time to Iraq. Even more, my friends are surprised that we were stationed on the same base in Iraq. Whenever I tell them our story, they always bring up that they thought that would be against the law, or at least against military policy. They bring up the movie "Saving Private Ryan," a story about a soldier whose brothers had died, so a squad was sent to save Private Ryan (hence the name of the movie) in order for their bloodline to survive.
The policy they are talking about is "The Sole Survivor Policy or DoD Directive" 1315.15 "Special Separation Policies for Survivorship". This policy is designed to protect members of a family from the draft or combat duty if they have already lost family members in military service.
Since neither him or I had died, we were both deployed with no logistical problems. There is a policy called "The Buddy System," in which two people can join the Marines at the same time, and it promises them that they will be placed in the same platoon in boot camp, their military school, and in the same command in the fleet.
Many brothers are deployed at the same time, and even this same unit. While he and I were on the same base, we were not in the same unit. Females and males cannot join the buddy system together because, unlike other branches of the military, we don't let males and females train together in boot camp. Male recruits are on one side of Paris Island, and females we are on the other.
This gender segregation is different in the fleet, especially in Iraq, because our head (bathroom) and showers are unisex. My partnered always guarded the door whenever I was using the bathroom or taking a shower. He was a very good partner, because not all partners would be so considerate. If I had to use the head or change my clothes in the middle of nowhere, he held a poncho up so no one could see me. If some guy ever whistled at me, he gave them this scary death glare. I scored when I was assigned him. My unit had four females out of 350 Marines. None of us at that point had been deployed to Iraq or seen combat previously, so we were all assigned a male infantry Marine who had already seen combat.
In Iraq, whenever our base was mortared, I always started to worry if my brother was okay on the other side of the base. He was an aviation, and I was ground support. He was located on the main side of the base while I was at the other providing security for the west flank of the wire. We made it a long-standing rule that we would go to church on Sunday. If I was going to church, my command let me check-out a Humvee so my partner could go to main side. My partner always used the phone to call his wife and kids while I was in church with my brother.
My brother and I never really paid attention to the Padre; we sat in the back of the auditorium so we could talk. This was the only time I could see him. I originally tried to mail him letters, but our mail was sent straight to California, and then it would be distributed and re-sent to Iraq. From start to finish, this process took about three weeks.
The only time we did not receive mail was during the first Battle of Fallujah. For over 30 days all our supply trucks were being mortared, then commandeered. During that time, the base started to run out of food, and towards the end, we were only eating one MRE for every three days. They even stole our mail trucks, often with expensive care packages in them. We were fortunate for water since we were right on the Euphraties. This river is really dirty, but we had means to boil it, and iodine and bleach to make it extra safe. That doesn't change the taste however. We added Gatorade powder, but that just made the water taste like cherry flavored fish poop water.
It really stunk if I was assigned a convoy on Sunday, because I had no way to notify him I couldn't come, and vise versa. When one of us didn't show up for church, the other worried. I also had no way to know if he was okay if our base got attacked.
The only time a message was sent was when I was injured severely by an IED. My unit personally went to him and told my brother. He was adamant he wanted to see me before I was medically evacuated to Germany for surgery.moment. The way I looked and felt, I probably did look like I was dead, or at least a zombie,
My brother came over and held my hand, and told me that he had sent a Red Cross message to my parents which notified them that I was severely injured, and leaving for Germany. I remember telling my brother that my Padre and Doc had my "If I die letters" since they are non-combatants, and they hypothetically shouldn't be killed my the enemy. The Taliban and Al Queda does not recognize that policy.
After surgery in Germany, I was sent back to my command in the States. My brother came home uninjured. and as of now, he has deployed seven times since then. He is still in the Marines, so we might get deployed together again.