Face of Defense: Nebraska Brothers Serve Together
By Jon Connor
NATO Training Mission Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011 A Nebraska family is serving its nation above and beyond the call of duty, as three brothers are serving together in the area of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul and live in nearby Camp Phoenix.
Army Sgt. Bob Brewer meets with an Afghan soldier at a checkpoint in the Musahi area of Afghanistan. NATO photo by Jon Connor
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
All are in the same unit, are infantrymen in their 20s, and are married with young children.
What are the odds of this?
“Slim to none,” said Army Sgt. Bob Brewer, who turned 26 June 1, the youngest of the three brothers.
All serve with C Troop, 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Fury. They also serve as contract officer representatives for NATO Training Mission Afghanistan’s Regional Support Command Capital, serving as the command’s eyes and ears on structural projects for Afghan police and army needs in Kabul and areas of the outlying region.
The brothers all are in the Nebraska National Guard, which explains, in part, why they’re serving together here. But the fact that they’re all infantrymen and Airborne qualified also is noteworthy.
Oldest brother Army Sgt. 1st Class Steve Brewer, 29, is Ranger qualified, and middle brother Army Staff Sgt. Tim Brewer, 27, is air assault qualified. All three have been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge.
“We’re good shooters,” Bob said, reminiscing about their boyhood, adding they all had Red Ryder BB guns and used to shoot them at each other -- "not in the eye," he added, evoking a joke from the movie “A Christmas Story.”
“It’s just what we’re good at,” Bob said of shooting.
The Brewers mainly grew up in a rural setting, Bob said. Their parents separated when Bob was 3. Over the years, he and his sister were raised by their mother, and Steve and Tim, for the most part, grew up with their father.
Their sister, Jackie, is the senior sibling and served in the Marines during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Steve was in the theater at the same time, though they never met up, as she was in Kuwait, and Steve was in Iraq. Jackie worked as an aircraft generator mechanic, Steve said.
Steve now serves on a 13-mentoring mentoring team for Afghan police officers in three districts.
“As an infantryman, you fight,” he said. “I had to become peaceful.” One of the districts is in the Deh Sabz area, which Steve described as one of the poorest. “Poor” takes on a new meaning in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $500.
“We’ve done a lot in Deh Sabz,” Steve said, adding that $3.7 million has been spent to improve conditions there.
In his last two deployments, Steve was a sniper.
“All three of us were in Iraq together” in 2005, Steve said, describing it as “mind boggling.”
“Both my brothers and I are highly trained fighters,” he added.
Yet, Steve and Tim find themselves as peacemakers between various parties at odds with each other in Kabul.
“I’m the American voice at the shura,” Steve said. A shura is a meeting among village elders to discuss government issues such as well digging, schools, crops and food.
Steve was in the Deh Sabz district to attend a shura with 46 village elders and he also meet with the district police chief and the subgovernor. In passing, he talked with village elders about a myriad of concerns individually.
“You have to have the people on your side to be an effective police force,” Steve said.
The brothers know this to be true firsthand, because their father, the chief of police in Gordon, Neb., has served 31 years on the force. Their mother is a paramedic.
“The [Afghan National Police] are very willing to work. That’s enough for us,” Steve said. “We train them hard.”
Steve also is familiar with “jirga” -- a peacemaking meeting between families feuding about major issues such as land disputes. He said his role is to remain neutral and help to find a mutual agreement. Some “blood feuds” have been going on hundreds, if not thousands of years, he said.
It may seem that the Brewer family has sacrificed enough, but it turns out the siblings’ uncle, their father’s brother Tom, is an Army colonel who also is serving in Kabul.
The colonel has 33 years in the Army and the Nebraska National Guard as an infantry officer and he was wounded in Afghanistan in 2003. He was the first field-grade American officer to be wounded in action in Afghanistan, and he received the Purple Heart for being hit six times by enemy fire. He has spent five tours in Afghanistan.
Now, the colonel is assigned to U.S. Central Command’s counter narcotics organization as an advisor for Afghan counternarcotics police in Kabul.
“I have always been proud of the boys,” the colonel said via email while enjoying some leave back home. “They have been in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- all infantrymen -- and Steve is third-generation Army Ranger.
“The boys’ grandfather -- Ross, my father -- was a Korean War Airborne Ranger and set a great example of for all of us,” he added. “The boys have always been hard workers and good kids.”
Ross Brewer also received a Purple Heart after being wounded by an enemy bayonet, said Tim, noting his grandfather, now 83, lives in Wyoming.
Todm said he sees his nephews about every two to three weeks and on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
And the family tradition continues, as the colonel has a daughter enrolled in the Army’s ROTC program.
“My two younger brothers impress me in every way,” Steve said. “My brothers are very hard workers and honor us in the Army.”
The brothers say they see one or the other several times a week while doing their missions. However, all three manage to get together only once or twice a month, Bob said. “We just seem to run into each other,” he added.
Another brother, Andy, just graduated from high school. But, two of the brothers say he most likely won’t be wearing the uniform any time soon, as college is on his horizon.
“I don’t think he’s going into the military,” Steve said. “My family has sacrificed enough. It’s time for another family to step up to the plate.”
“I would agree about that,” Bob said. “I think he’s going to college.”
“I wouldn’t count him out,” said Tim, explaining that Andy does have interest in what his brothers are doing in the Army.
For Tim, life is similar to Steve’s, as he also serves as a team leader with a police mentor team.
Tim went to check on how things were going with “D3” -- directed district development, a course similar to police basic training -- at Police District 8. The eight-week course provides formal instruction for recruits who also are receiving on-the-job training as policemen.
Tim met with some of the course instructors to double-check that procedures and classes -- such as one on the Afghan constitution -- are followed and taught according to schedule, he said.
Later that day, Tim visited Police District 16, where he met with Police Chief Sayeed Farooq Sadat to discuss overall operations.
“We let them lead the way as much as possible,” Tim said. “They’ve been doing a lot of stuff on their own.”
That day, topics of discussion included a recent bust that yielded a cache of weapons and hashish. The items confiscated were brought into the office to show Tim.
Tim described the Bagrami district as “one of the worst areas” of Kabul because of drugs, land disputes and other issues. Like Steve, Tim mentors directly with a police chief.
“I’ll give them ideas in training [and] patrols,” Tim said, but “I’m not here to tell them what to do.”
Discussion also focused on an operation planned for the next day to check on some buildings suspected of insurgent activity. The plan called for Tim’s team to provide backup for Sadat’s police, and this would mean about three hours of sleep that night, at best.
For the youngest brother, Bob, his work is somewhat different as he conducts dismounted patrols in search of roadside bombs, and also mentors Afghan soldiers in supply and logistics.
“They have different views on things,” he said.
Bob’s team visited the Musahi district, where insurgents have been trying to infiltrate with explosives. At a new checkpoint, Afghan soldiers check to make sure things are as they should be. Bob’s job is to check on the Afghan army.
A suicide bomber destroyed the local government building and damaged several adjacent buildings in April, including the subgovernor’s center and police district headquarters. No one was killed, but three Afghans were injured, including two village elders.
Bob showed the rock wall about 10 feet high now being rebuilt that once partitioned the building and police district headquarters. The wall saved the lives of those inside the headquarters building by absorbing much of the blast’s impact.
Things have definitely changed from the days when the Brewer boys were growing up near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation just north of Gordon across the border in South Dakota. Instead of BB guns, they now have the Army’s most modern weaponry. Instead of romping around in Nebraska, they’re in Afghanistan.
“It’s a good support chain,” Bob said of having his older brothers here.
“It’s definitely a family tradition," Tim said of the Brewer family’s military service. “I’m really glad I did it.”