Brothers in arms: The Rowlands of the 411th Engineer Brigade
April 22, 2012
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -- Since the beginning of military operations in Afghanistan back in 2001, thousands of U.S. servicemembers have made the journey there in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Over the years it's not uncommon for many siblings to have made the same trek as their brother or sister.
What is unusual, however, is to have two brothers deploy at the same time, in the same section of the same unit. But this is exactly what happened to 2nd Lt. Benjamin Rowland and Spc. Nathan Rowland, who are deployed to Afghanistan with the 411th Engineer Brigade, 412th Theater Engineer Command.
According to their father, Steven Rowland, the two boys were very different growing up. Nathan, the older of the two, was a natural athlete who enjoyed football and lacrosse. Benjamin, on the other hand, was more into computers yet shared the same competitive nature of his brother.
But after high school the two brothers began to realize they shared the same interests. Both attended Mississippi State University and joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
However, Nathan would eventually see his future with the military running a different course than his brother. He left ROTC after three years and followed the footsteps of his father, a command sergeant major in the Army Reserve.
"I'm a hands on person," said Nathan, a Vicksburg, Miss. native, "and I really like to lead others and I thought the best way to do both was to go down the noncommissioned officer path."
His brother Benjamin, however, completed ROTC and commissioned as a second lieutenant, a position, he admits, is interesting but somewhat awkward outranking his older brother.
"It's weird not having him come up and just say 'hey Ben,'" said Benjamin. "But I think it makes us think twice and be more aware of our military bearing."
After six years in the Army, the Rowland brothers cross-leveled to the 411th Engineer Brigade for their first deployment. Benjamin will serve over Nathan in the same section for an entire year.
While this deployment is certain to test the bonds of brotherhood between Nathan and Benjamin, the bonds with family members will be tested as well. While their father is a seasoned veteran when it comes to deployments, Nathan's wife, Anna Lee Rowland, is new to this whole experience.
Being a newlywed couple of only a month and a half, Anna Lee admits she doesn't like that her new husband is heading off to war. She is happy though that they have taken care of important matters before her husband left. The couple has made all the financial arrangements to make sure this deployment goes by as easily as possible and plans to keep in touch as often as possible through e-mails and Facebook.
As for their father, who has served several tours overseas in his career, he says it's a strange feeling being the one who stays home while his sons go off to war.
"Now I can see what the wife had to go through," Steven jokes. "It's not the same but still, a piece of my heart goes with them."