KANDAHAR, Afghanistan —The war on terror is the longest military campaign in U.S recorded history that American forces have been involved in. As a result, servicemembers have been separated from their families for months, even years at a time. However, for one 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) Soldier, her assignment to the Fort Drum, N.Y, based unit and deployment here provided the opportunity to reunite with her brother.
Capt. Jessica Russell, a finance officer assigned to the division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, Intelligence and Sustainment Company, had not seen her brother, Sgt. Josiah Russell, in nearly seven months. Before then, the Oswego, N.Y., natives had not seen each other in almost two years due to his Iraq deployment and her assignment as a basic training company commander. In a casual conversation with her battalion command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Rocco, regarding her brother, his upcoming reenlistment and being deployed to the same country, she mentioned wanting to see him and being a part of his momentous occasion before he redeployed back to Fort Drum, Jessica said. “To be totally honest, I didn’t think anything would come out of the whole conversation with the sergeant major,” said Jessica.
Meanwhile, in northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province, Josiah thought of the possibility of coming down and seeing big sister Jessica, but his busy schedule always dictated otherwise, he said. The 23-year-old sergeant is serving as a member of the Quick Reaction Security Force at Camp Mike Spann in Mazar-e-Sharif. When he is not pulling security out on patrols, Josiah serves in the camp’s fire department and is preparing to redeploy back to the United States.
“I just came back from a mission when my platoon sergeant approached me and said I had to go see the command sergeant major (Philip Chepenik) with my squad leader. I’ll admit, I was a bit concerned and didn’t know what to think,” said Josiah, a combat engineer assigned to Brigade Special Troop’s Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10thMountain Div. (LI). Back in Kandahar, Rocco gathered all of Josiah’s information from Jessica and contacted his old Fort Drum neighbor, Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Chepenik. “I told him the story about one of our officers having a brother in his unit, and how she wanted to reenlist him before his unit redeployed. [Chepenik] sent me an e-mail back stating he would work it on his end. A couple of days later Captain Russell contacted me stating that her brother would be coming down on the 20th to reenlist,” said Rocco.
“I was really excited that my brother was coming down and couldn’t wait to see him. The sergeants major really came through for us,” Jessica said. After meeting with his sergeant major, Josiah was told to pack his bags and head to Kandahar where he met his sister and spent the next few hours catching up and taking photos to send home to their proud mother, Susan Tarbell, who lives in Oswego.
Approximately five years ago, Jessica, a young Army officer, took Josiah, a local farm-hand, to their local Army recruitment center and convinced him to join. Once the contract was drawn up, she swore him in. “I was glad to see my sister. I started to think it wasn’t going to be possible to see her out here, but here we are, just like before, her swearing me in again. I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Josiah said.
The Russell’s have made the service a family affair. Aside from Jessica and Josiah, they have another brother, Justin, currently serving in the National Guard. Jessica enlisted him as well. “It’s always a great day in the Army when we can reenlist quality noncommissioned officers. But, to have an older sister reenlist her younger brother is great for both the Army family and the Russell family,” Rocco said. “I am proud of our service. I feel the military is a great institution, allowing many opportunities to excel. I wouldn’t want anything else for my family,” Jessica said.