A military overseas deployment normally means separation from family members. But a handful of Soldiers in the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 829th Engineer Company experienced an exception to the rule during that unit’s 2019-20 deployment to several Middle East nations — deploying with a sibling.
“Having a sibling with was a wonderful experience,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tylor Harlan, who deployed with his twin brother, Staff Sgt. Cody Harlan. “We were separated quite early in the deployment when his platoon was called up to Afghanistan and mine stayed in Kuwait. We were able to stay in contact, though we were both quite busy most of the time. Although we were in different situations, it was nice to have someone ‘nearby’ to talk to about how things were going.”
The Spooner and Ashland, Wisconsin-based 829th Engineer Company supported an Indiana Army National Guard engineer battalion and served at 21 bases spread across seven countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. There they improved existing facilities, completed construction projects for others, or deconstructed facilities no longer needed for the mission.
In the same unit, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Hitchcock deployed with his two younger brothers, Spc. Daniel Hitchcock and Spc. Stephen Hitchcock.
“I was with both of my brothers throughout all pre-deployment training and Kuwait,” Jonathan said, “but then I got frontloaded to Afghanistan in December with my youngest brother Stephen, leaving Daniel back in Kuwait. Ironically, Stephen and I got separated in Afghanistan and then Daniel joined me at the same forward operating base in Afghanistan three months later. So I got to be with Daniel from March 7 to July 7 before he headed back to Kuwait.”
Spc. Drew Rohde and his brother Sgt. Derek Rohde not only deployed together with the 829th, they have two other brothers who also served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
“I think they were very excited for us to [deploy] together,” Drew said.
Tylor expressed a similar reaction from his family.
“I know my sister and mother were a bit more stressed out to have both of us gone at the same time,” he said. “Our significant others seemed to be relieved though, knowing that we had each other.”
“My mom was a mess during the departure, but she was used to it from the first deployment,” Jonathan said. “I have six brothers and one sister, so at least she had some of the kids still stateside to talk to. My dad was always trying to make sure we were okay, too.”
This was not the first time Jonathan deployed with a brother.
“I deployed with my oldest brother the first time, which is crazy!” Jonathan said. “I would say I wasn’t with that brother as much as these, though. I was a team member on the first deployment and a squad leader on this one, so I was thrown around with my squad a lot more on the first [deployment].
“I was used to going overseas with a relative.”
Tylor and Cody were in different platoons — separate sections within the company — and different locations for much of the deployment. But for a three-month span, Cody and a team of vertical engineers worked at Tylor’s location, where he was the officer in charge of projects.
“I was very pleased that we did end up having the chance to work together on some projects,” Tylor said. “We both understand the difference between Army time and family time. We understood that the work day was all business, and at the card table or volleyball court we could relax and not worry so much about who outranked who.”
Drew and Derek spent much of their deployment together.
“Really never left each other’s side,” Drew said. “Work, eating, working out or just goofing around on down time, we were always together. Being that my brother was a higher rank than me, it was nice to look to him for leadership and guidance along the way, as well as having a friend.”
This deployment provided an unanticipated opportunity for Jonathan and Daniel.
“[We] had a falling out five years prior,” Jonathan said, “and this deployment reconnected us in a way that I never knew was possible. We found out all about relationships we had those past five years, jobs, where we wanted to go with our lives.”
Tylor said that, being twins, he knew Cody pretty well before the deployment.
“But I did realize he is a much better electrician than I ever care to be,” he acknowledged.
Tylor said that, if given the opportunity, he would deploy with his brother again “100 percent.” Jonathan agreed.
“Absolutely I’d deploy with them again,” he exclaimed.
“I think one deployment was enough for me, in general,” Drew said. “But if I had to do another one, I would do it with him.”
The 829th Engineer Company and its approximately 150 Soldiers returned from its deployment to Southwest Asia and the Middle East in September 2020.