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Operation Enduring Freedom deployment helps build lifetime bonds

13 Dec 2002 | Lance Cpl. Alexander Whitney 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

One thing that may help service members cope with the stress of being deployed is support from their family and friends. For a few Marines and one Sailor currently deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) aboard the USS Nassau (LHA-4) a bond has been formed that may carry over for years after this deployment ends.

Aboard the ship are two cousins who had never met until just before the MEU set sail and two Marines who have managed to get stationed together since their first year at the Naval Academy.

For the cousins, this deployment enabled them to meet for the first time. It was during the Phibron MEU Integration Exercise, an exercise that is part of the MEU's Predeployment Training Program, that Lance Cpl. Rafael Bryan, a legal clerk and Atlanta native, with the MEU's Command Element, first met his cousin, SH3 Claudette Bryan, a ships serviceman from Lehijik, Fla.

"I was walking around the ship and noticed that she had the same name," said Bryan. "I have met many people with the same last name, but we were not related."

It wasn't until one day when both of them were visiting friends in same workspace that the two actually met. "My friend kept on hassling me to come up and visit her, so one day I did, and there he was. That's when I asked him about his name," said SH3.

"It was a weird coincidence, coming on float and meeting a family member that I never knew existed before," said the legal clerk.

When the two first got together, they talked about the prospect of a connection. "It's very possible that we are related, both of our fathers are from Panama," said Lance Cpl. Bryan.

"My family and I know that my father still has family there (Panama), and we have been wanting to go visit, however, we haven't gone yet. Its fate that brought us together," said the ships serviceman.

Since the two found each other, they meet regularly. "Usually he'll come and find me, if not I will go find him. We see each other just about everyday," said SH3 Bryan.

With the MEU currently in support of Operation Enduring Freedom both agree that having family aboard the ship makes the deployment a little easier.

"It helps having someone there who you are related to. If I have a problem I have someone I can turn to for help and vice versa," said SH3. "It also makes getting through the holidays easier knowing that I have family going through the same thing," said Lance Cpl. Bryan.

Once the deployment is over and both are back in the United States, they both plan on taking some time off and visiting each other's side of the family. "My dad has opened his arms to her, he welcomes her into our house," said Lance Cpl. Bryan. When SH3 told her family about her cousin, "They we're excited, and said it was a small world."

But the Bryans aren't the only ones with a connection here. Two Marines from Fox Battery, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, have followed each other since their time at the Naval Academy. 1st Lts. Matthew Schroer and Matthew Eichmann not only share a first name, but also a past.

"We didn't know each other back at Annapolis. We first met at TBS," says Schroer, speaking of The Basic School at Quantico, VA, where the two were both in 1st platoon.

At Annapolis, Schroer was in 30th company, majoring in naval architecture, while Eichmann was in 1st, studying history.

They both come from different backgrounds. Schroer is a Cleveland, Ohio native who comes from a big, close-knit family and went to a private Catholic school, whereas Eichmann hails from White Plains, N.Y. and is alum to the New York public school system.

"Being with someone you know, you're never alone in a new unit," said Schroer. "You're not the only one."

The two lieutenants attended the Naval Academy, The Basic School, and Field Artillery Officers Basic Course together.

Upon completion of the aforementioned schools, they were paired up again when they were assigned to Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC.

The battery was then assigned to reinforce BLT 2/2, 24th MEU (SOC), where Schroer is the battery fire direction officer, and Eichmann is the battery's assistant executive officer.

Schroer and Eichmann's personalities are different, which enables them to accomplish their mission. "We both draw different things from something. This allows us to look at different aspects of a mission, and to cover all parts of the spectrum," said Schroer. "Our different personalities help us see what needs to be done. I might see something one way, whereas Matt (Schroer) perceives it differently. In the end, it gives us a broader view on things," said Eichmann.

Although their experience with the MEU is limited, they have gained some valuable training since the MEU left in late August.

While in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Schroer and Eichmann's battery was working as a rifle company. There they did routine patrols and conducted searches of suspected smugglers.

During a recent exercise in the U.S. Central Command Area Of Responsibility, their battery conducted numerous fire missions to refresh their artillery skills.

Although the two lieutenants have been assigned to the same units for the past two years, they feel that their time together has come to an end. "We have different goal aspirations after this float. We are both looking at "B" billets," said Eichmann.

Although the two are most likely going to go separate ways, they know they haven't seen the last of one another. "The artillery field is a small community, especially the officer side. We all know the same people, and have a lot of connections. I am sure Lt. Schroer and I will run into each other again," said Eichmann.

While the connections these Marines and Sailor made on the deployment are fairly new to each of them, the bond they have created may last them a lifetime.