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Face of Defense: Deployed Sisters Reunite in Afghanistan

By Army Spc. Eric-James Estrada
4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division Public Affairs

KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2011 – What started as a simple journey for Army 2nd Lt. Tess White turned into a race against time to see her sister, Army Sgt. Tobey White, before her tour of duty ended in Afghanistan.

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Army 2nd Lt. Tess White, left, and Army Sgt. Tobey White unwrap presents on Christmas Day on Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan. The sisters met up on the tail end of Tobey’s deployment and the beginning of Tess’. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Tess’ journey began Dec. 9, when she left Fort Richardson, Alaska, and traveled around the world, all the while worried she would miss her sister, who was nearing the end of her deployment. Her worries were unfounded as she arrived at Forward Operating Base Salerno on Dec. 21 and reunited with her sister.

The sisters, Columbus, Ohio, natives, have a rich family military history. Both parents are former Marines, and a member of their family has fought in every war since the Civil War.

Now, the two sisters claim their own place in the family legacy as the first two females to deploy in support of a war. Their mother, Hollie Andrews, was the family’s first female to join the military.

Tess, officer in charge for the joint visitor bureau, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Spartan, said she and her sister are competitive with each other, and joining the military was no different.

Both sisters competed to be the first commissioned officer. When Tobey, a public affairs specialist for HHC, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, first entered Officer Candidate School, Tess was still in college going through ROTC and was thrilled for her sister, until she realized one important aspect.

“Tobey’s going to commission before me and outrank me,” Tess said.

Tess added that her sister has yet to salute her.

“I’ve saluted you,” Tobey said with a lighthearted stare. “Remember after you received your commission?”

Tobey joined the enlisted side after an injury prevented her from completing Officer Candidate School. After her injury, Tobey was faced with a decision: leave the Army or find another path to pursue. She spoke with her father, who gave her blunt advice.

“We’re not quitters. Do want you want to, but we are not quitters,” he told her.

Her father’s words inspired her to continue with an Army career, and she retrained as a public affairs specialist.

“Failing out of OCS was probably the best thing for me because it gave me the opportunity to work in public affairs,” Tobey said, “which is what I wanted to do anyway. I was very pleased with the end result.”

For Tess, serving her country always has been a lifelong dream. In high school she tried to enlist in the Marine Corps, but her father, a former Marine `gunnery sergeant and Desert Storm veteran, made a deal with her.

“‘Give me one year of college; if you don’t like it, then you can join.’ That was the deal we made,” Tess said.

Tess joined the ROTC program at Ohio State University, where she received a two-year ROTC scholarship and earned her commission.

She also met her husband at the Leader Development and Assessment Course at Fort Lewis, Wash. He’s finishing field artillery training and hopes to join the 2nd Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment of the 4th ABCT.

A running joke between the sisters and their parents is whose service is the toughest. Their mother, a former Marine Corps corporal, enjoys teasing her daughters.

Tess recalled when she attended a military ball while a cadet. “I wore my Class As and my mom tells me, ‘I never thought one of my daughters would ever wear those greens,’” she said. “I was about ready to cry.”

Tobey said when she was deciding which service to join, her parents were supportive. They told her, “It’s your life. Choose the service that is the best fit for you.”

However, upon signing the contract, her parents teased her by saying the Marines were too tough.

As Tobey’s tour comes to a close and Tess’ begins, the sisters said they were grateful to spend some time together, especially during the holidays.

“I lugged a few gifts with me just to have her open them on Christmas,” Tess said.

Tobey left her younger sister with a few words of encouragement.

“Your deployment will be what you make of it,” she told her. “If you stay focused, workout, and don’t get complacent, the time will fly by.”

“Take care of Dad,” Tess responded. “Mom will be fine, but you know Dad will spend every other day worrying.”

Tess then proceeded to give her sister one more taunt about why she is better.

“I’m airborne and she’s not. Airborne, Hooah!” joked Tess.


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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy 2nd Lt. Tess White, left, and her sister, Army Sgt. Tobey White, shop at a local bazaar while at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan, December 2011. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson  
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