Siblings' tours dovetail in eastern Afghanistan
July 31, 2013
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - "Tag out," Rebecca Stratford said, giving her younger brother, Kyle Thomas, a high-five.
With a grin, Kyle replied, "That's right! Leave me the keys to the FOB."
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Kyle Thomas and 1st Lt. Rebecca Stratford are both medical platoon leaders by trade and are currently serving together at Forward Operating Base Fenty, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.
For a few short weeks in July, anyway.
Kyle, the brigade medical supply officer for Charlie Company, 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Bde. Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, is coming in, and Rebecca, support operations medical officer-in-charge, Charlie Company, 426th Bde. Support Bn., 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Div., is going out: his unit is replacing hers at Fenty.
That they're both in Afghanistan at the same time tugs heartstrings back home.
"I know our poor mother is a wreck, because she gets one back and sends one off to war," said Rebecca, whose married name is Stratford. "[But] our parents are extremely proud of us. They understand that this is our chosen path, and they support it no matter what."
Kyle and Rebecca are quite happy to share even this short time with each other during their respective deployments.
"It's awesome. It's absolutely awesome," she said. "Most people don't get to share this experience with their family."
The military has long been a part of the siblings' lives. Their father was in the Coast Guard when they were young, and both Kyle and Rebecca participated in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps in high school.
Though they both still call King George County, Va., home, they each left the nest for college. Rebecca studied molecular genetics at Clemson University in South Carolina; Kyle majored in aviation at Ohio University. Both gained their commissions through the ROTC programs at their schools.
Following in Rebecca's footsteps, Kyle said he chose a military career for the opportunities it promised.
"The same with my sister, I knew the military was going to be a great path for me," said Kyle. "It's provided so many opportunities: career opportunities, networking, things of that nature."
For him, the Army provides a way to pursue his dream of becoming a chopper pilot. However, military aviation is an extremely competitive and selective field. On account of this, Kyle said he's trying the backdoor approach: Going through the medical branch to become a Medevac pilot.
"I want to fly helicopters," he said. "That's my end state."
As for Rebecca, she plans to stay in the medical field, and was recently accepted into a clinical laboratory program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, which she'll start next year.
"I'm really excited," she said. "I get to go back to the lab, which is my passion."
For the time being, however, the siblings find themselves serving in Afghanistan together.
"I wholeheartedly believe that this will not be the [last] time that Kyle and I end up taking over for each other, or working in the same battle space, or working at the same post," she said. "I fully expect we'll be crossing paths throughout our Army careers."
That they're crossing paths at Fenty is largely due to the size of the Army's medical branch - it's relatively small. This has afforded them an opportunity not many service members get.
"Sometimes it's hard for Soldiers to go home and try and explain what this experience is like to their family members," Rebecca said. "But I'm lucky in that I have someone sitting right next to me who gets it. Who completely gets it. It's just the coolest thing."