AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
Throughout the 233-year history of the United States of America, several generations of men from the same family have served in its military. It was not unusual to find brothers, cousins and even sons and fathers fighting in the same war, often times wearing the same uniform. Serving in the military was a family tradition. For five brothers from a small town in Kentucky, it still is.
Chief Petty Officer Chad Roberts, Petty Officers 1st Class Jody and Dwayne Roberts, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Roberts, are brothers who currently serve in the U.S. Navy and with the same unit, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24, a Seabees unit based out of Lexington, Ky. Their brother, Bruce, retired from the Navy in 2006.
Chad and Chris, both steelworkers, and Dwayne, a construction electrician, are presently deployed to western Al Anbar province, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Jody, also a steelworker and the youngest boy out of seven children, did not deploy overseas with his brothers but supports them while they are gone.
“I pray for their safety and their well being every day,” he said. “I am very proud of Dwayne, Chad and Chris. I wish I could have joined them in Iraq but as things happen there was a reason God chose me to stay behind.”
Although they can’t always be in the same place at the same time, the bond they share is unbreakable. Their sacred connection to each other was formed when they were young boys growing up on the family farm in a small town approximately 85 miles outside of Louisville, one of Kentucky’s most populated cities. Just like other American boys living in small town U.S.A., the Roberts brothers showed their love for each other by beating up one another, competing to see who could jump the highest on their bikes, and playing baseball on the baseball diamond that their father, Millard, created just for his boys.
“[One of my favorite childhood memories] was beating the ‘unbeatable’ Sorgho Reds in baseball … most of my brothers were on the team and dad was the coach,” Bruce said. “We were very competitive.”
The brothers’ childhood dreams included the possibility of becoming a professional baseball player, a veterinarian and even a farmer. Never did any of them imagine that they, much less all of their brothers would join the Navy. But fate and their overwhelming love for the country drew them to where they are now.
Dwayne, the oldest of the siblings, was the first to join the Navy in 1984. He didn’t join seeking excitement or to just have a nine-to-five job, but rather to achieve his aspiration for a higher education and to satisfy his desire to serve his country.
“I wanted to get educated and serve my country. I was already married [but] couldn’t afford to go to college because my wife and I were both ‘bringing home the bacon’ so to speak,” he explained.
Initially, Dwayne’s younger brothers, Chad and Jody, joined the Air Force in 1984 and 1986, respectively. After completing their obligated four years of service, Chad and Jody, left the Air Force and Dwayne finished his four years in the Navy. More than 10 years had passed before any of them thought of putting on a military uniform again.
Then on Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacked America.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Chris, the middle child of seven, said of the tragedy. “I didn’t like the fact that we were attacked on our own soil in the U.S. I knew I had to do something.”
Exactly two weeks after the attack, he raised his right hand and swore to support and defend the U.S. as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Dwayne, Chad and Jody had already reenlisted months before the attack.
“To do something like serving in the military is the most honorable thing one can do for their country. Everyone needs to fight for the freedom of our country, stand up, do your duty, and do it with honor, courage and commitment. That is the backbone of our military and a code we live by,” Jody said.
The only opportunity for all five brothers to be in one location while serving in the Navy came in 2003 when Chad, Jody, Dwayne and Chris were at the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Unfortunately, Bruce was the only one unable to get orders there. But that didn’t diminish their love for the Navy. The Roberts brothers attribute their enthusiasm to serve, to the love and support from their own families and their local community in Kentucky.
“Our community is very supportive. We all live in a small town of roughly 600 people so everybody helps out our wives and watches out for our kids at school and around town,” Chad noted.
Their father and their mother, Barbara, are especially supportive and proud of the sacrifices that their sons are making for their country. Unlike some parents today, she or her husband never tried to talk any of them out of joining the military and were not surprised when they finally joined.
“I prayed all the years they were growing up that they would never have to be involved in a war, but I know that this is God’s will and His will be done,” she said. “I know that God will protect them and sustain us.”
Barbara added that the love for God and each other are the two main reasons why her children are so close.
“We taught them to stand together in whatever they did and to support each other through life. They are not only brothers, [they are also] friends,” she said.
The deep connection the brothers have together and with the Navy is something they hope to pass on to their own children. Particularly, Chris and Bruce have already begun to sow the seeds of brotherly love and commitment into their sons – Chris’ son is a Marine, while the other followed his father’s footsteps into the Navy. Family get-togethers, as they all agree, bring them even closer.
“We grew up as a close family doing the usual family vacations. My mom and dad both have close families so it was second nature to us,” Chad said of his family’s strong relationships with each other. “We all went into the military but after our service was over we all returned to our small town we grew up in to raise our own families there. So now we drill together, go camping together, and just spend time together.”
These days, the Roberts brothers may not get to spend as much together as they would like or get to see each other every day like they used to back home in Kentucky, but they never forget that they are a “band of brothers, in family and in arms.”