Mission to Afghanistan: Brothers in arms
December 23, 2012
The term “Band of Brothers” appeared in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” when the gifted playwright illustrated men’s camaraderie and their struggles that brought them as close as any family’s sibling but without the blood tie.Yet, the term “band of brothers” also applies to those siblings who may serve together in the same unit, sharing the good and the bad news but also confiding their fears and concerns.The Nevada Army National Guard’s 593rd Transportation Company arrived in Afghanistan this year with four sets of brothers from Reno, Spring Creek and Las Vegas, while Bravo Company,189th General Support Aviation brought two brothers from Fallon to Forward Operating Base Shank. Capt. Curtis Kolvet, commander of the 593rd TC, explained it best, however, when describing all the brothers serving in Afghanistan for their first time:“It is unique that they have the ability to deploy with a family member and to share this experience with them, and I hope it serves for them a bond that they can take with them for the rest of their lives; it also gives them someone to lean on or provide strength when times might get tough over here or there are issues they may be facing.”Sage advice changes Fallon brothersFate changed the lives of Fallon brothers Spc. Robert “Robby” Graves and his younger brother Spc. Jeffrey (Graves) Fiske.Fiske, who is married and adopted his inlaw’s surname, said he tends to shelter his extended family with any news from Afghanistan, so he confides in his brother, a crew member on a Chinook 47D helicopter.By coincidence and with the guidance of a retired Nevada Army National Guard chief of staff, the graduates of Churchill County High School, enlisted in Bravo Company 189th GSAB at a critical juncture in their lives.For Graves, he had been toying with the idea of returning to college. Fiske, though, almost enlisted into the Navy; instead, upon the advice of retired Col. Craig Wroblewski, the two brothers joined the National Guard.“I wanted to go back to school, but the chief of staff pointed me in the right direction,” said the 27-year-old Graves.In March 2010, Graves enlisted in the Guard. His brother, who is a year younger, joined five months later.“I found out I could go to school for aviation maintenance,” Fiske explained, “but my plans to go into the Navy fell through.”Knowing that his brother’s plans had changed, Graves talked to Wroblewski, advising him of Fiske’s situation.“School … couldn’t afford it, but after doing more research, this (aviation maintenance) was my career path,” Fiske added.Deploying together at Forward Operating Base Shank has been beneficial for both brothers. Fiske and Graves were close growing up, always checking on the other. Because of the periodic indirect fire aimed at Shank, the brothers keep tabs on one another.“Yes, we worry about each other,” Graves said. “We are sharing an experience with each other for the rest of our lives, something family back home will not experience.”Capt. Michael Bordallo, commander of the 189th said the brothers bring “a lot of muscle to the table.”“Those guys bring a lot of motivation, smarts, creative thinking and the ability to focus on a task and complete it,” said Bordallo. “No collusion with these close brothers; they tend to bring out the best in each other.”As for their friends and own family in Fallon, Graves said everyone has been supportive because of the deployment they have experienced together. “With the National Guard, there is a sense of pride in the communities,” Graves said.When they return to Nevada after the deployment, Graves will return to his full-time technician job with the Guard, and Fiske is more focused on attending school.“I’ll get back having this training behind me. I might go to avionics school, but that is still pending,” Fiske said. “I may also put out some resumes for maintenance.”As for their overall experience halfway around the world, both Graves and Fiske said they were surprised.“There’s a different side to Afghanistan,” Fiske said. “What you see on the news is completely different than what goes on.”Sharing stories of their families Although Bobby and James Riley are married and have their own families, they don’t visit each other as often as they wish.The Riley brothers said they remain close during their deployment with the 593rd. Since the unit has four sets of brothers, the command has purposely divided the siblings so that they don’t serve on the same missions in case of an incident.“The only time that I concentrate on them being brothers is when I review every manifest before every mission that rolls out the gate,” Kolvet pointed out. “If I see the name of one of the brothers on there, I make sure to double check that the other isn’t on the same manifest. It is a policy I enacted well before we ever left the states, and first sergeant has ensured through all the personnel moves we’ve made over the past six months that brothers are never in the same platoon.” James Riley said he usually sees his brother the following day after a mission and they’ll chat.“The platoons keep us busy. When I see him I know he’s doing well, and we’ll exchange news about the families,” he said. “In Reno we live close to each other but don’t hang out that often, but more so on the holidays.”When they first arrived in Afghanistan, Bobby Riley said they felt a little more anxiety not knowing what the mission would entail; however, he said their parents worry more. “There’s more stress on our parents but it’s not as bad now,” Bobby Riley added. James Riley, who is a lab technician for a minerals and metal laboratory in Reno, said his parents and both brothers’ families are handling the deployment well.“There is always the worry,” James said. “I’ll talk to my wife every day because the communication (from Camp Phoenix to Reno) is good.”As with the other brothers, the Rileys have a difficult job in one of the world’s most dangerous cities. They are both gunners and occasionally drive one of the big mine resistant vehicles.Kolvet, though, said he seldom thinks of the four sets of siblings as brothers outside of tactical considerations; instead he extends his appreciation to the parents for their trust in his command.Older brother provides a solid rockPvt. Jason Otto credits his older brother for persuading him into joining the Nevada Army National Guard.With his brother firmly established in the 593rd Transportation Company, the 21-year-old Otto wanted to do something with his life, and coming from a military family, he had an inkling as to his future.“My brother influenced me about the Guard and let me know about the benefits,” Otto said.Knowing that his brother was going to deploy to Afghanistan with the transportation company also became a deciding factor because of their close relationship. Sgt. Donald Otto, 24, said he knew his brother would deploy after enlisting, but he vowed to ensure his safety.“I’m looking after him, but he is more capable of doing things here,” Donald Otto sad. “It’s good for the family that we are both over here, but it is also a two-way street in case something happens to us.”Kolvet said the company spent a significant amount of time, paperwork and effort to get Jason Otto enlisted into the National Guard through basic and advanced training so that he could deploy in time with his brother.“This was their goal all along when they found out about the deployment — to deploy to Afghanistan together,” Kolvet added. Both brothers have dangerous jobs with the transportation company at Camp Phoenix, which is next to the Kabul International Airport. Jason Otto drives a convoy truck and is also a gunner. Donald Otto serves as a truck commander when convoys leave Camp Phoenix and head to one of the bases in the Kabul region. Donald Otto, a guardsman for four years, said his advice to his brother is brief.“Keep your head down and stay awake,” he said.Jason Otto said the soldiers face their share of stress, but having his brother reduces the tension.“We help each other with different things on the base. It’s nice to relate to each other through our mission, but we do worry about each other,” Jason Otto said.Bringing Spring Creek brothers closerDustin and Chris Greener love life but miss the wide open spaces of Spring Creek nestled below the Ruby Mountains south of Elko. Although they don’t see each other due to their different duties with the 593rd TC, they, nevertheless, worry.“We don’t see each other that often,” said 23-year-old Sgt. Chris Greener, a truck commander. “In the beginning there was a lot of worry but not too much now. I don’t worry about him too much now because I have confidence in the command structure.”The brothers said the time spent in Afghanistan and the experience is helping each other cope with the every day stress at Camp Phoenix and for going out on two to three convoys each week. Pfc. Dustin Greener said performing the same types of missions has brought the two brothers closer. “We know our jobs and what we need to do,” Chris Greener added.Chris Greener’s experience in the military has also helped his brother. Chris Greener has been with the 593rd for five years, and this is their first deployment together.Their parents were also receptive of the two brothers being deployed at the same time.“They were OK about it. We talked to them,” Chris Greener said.Henderson brothers light-heartednessThe Babas brothers from Henderson joined the Nevada Army National Guard within six months of each other and are serving their first deployment together with the 593rd.While the brothers take their mission seriously, they have a close bond with each other and enjoy the light-hearted moments with their colleagues.Pfc. Matthew Babas is honest on his reason for joining the Guard.“This is what my brother said. ‘The girls are hot,’” Matthew Babas said, chuckling.Chris Babas, though, deflected some of the laughter from nearby soldiers, saying he told his brother about the benefits offered in the National Guard.Both brothers said the enlistment in the Guard and the deployment to Afghanistan have brought them closer. Because of the potential dangers involved with convoy missions outside the Camp Phoenix gates, they check on each other regularly. Both Chris and Matt are gunners, a crucial job to provide lookout on the armed vehicles.“We’ll stop by each other’s room,” Matt Babas said, explaining his concerns. “Once a week we’ll have a serious night, smoking cigars and talking about business or stuff back home.”Both Matt and Chris aren’t afraid to give each other a hug or swat each other on the butt for good luck before they leave for their missions. Being in Afghanistan together has helped ease the anxiety.