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Brothers reunite in Iraqi desert

2 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

Sgt. Phillip T. Southern has a habit of following his older brother, Gunnery Sgt. David E. Lee, even to a combat zone.

First, there was high school, then he joined the Marine Corps and now the two find themselves assigned together at Regimental Combat Team 7 in western Iraq.

"I was just walking through the chow hall and there he was," Southern explained.

"I just flipped out," Lee added.  "I was so happy to see him."

Southern's habit of following Lee started in high school.  Lee, 29 and four years older than 25-year-old Southern, sort of paved the way for him.  Lee was a star athlete in high school in Lodi, Calif., and his popularity rubbed off on his younger brother.

"I never went to high school with him because he's four years older than me," Southern said.  "But, because of his reputation he sure made my life in school a whole lot easier.  I was able to hang out with the older kids."

Even after school the brothers continued to shape and influence the other's life.

"It's kind of funny," Lee said.  "I was his recruiter and also picked his (military operational specialty) for him."

The two felt obligated to each other and to their country with this deployment.  Both were unable to deploy during the invasion of Iraq last year.

"I think we both felt a little left out," Lee said.

Southern almost missed out on this deployment.  He was serving at Camp Pendleton's School of Infantry in California, an inactive reserve Marine on active duty.

"We were talking one night," said Lee, an information operations chief for RCT-7.  "He told me he was going to come out here with me.  I didn't believe him, because most inactive reservists don't deploy, but somehow he was able to get orders."

In fact, Southern convinced his command to swing him orders to 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, which is now serving alongside RCT-7.

Even more, Southern extended his contract to deploy, a fact he didn't share with everyone.

"He never told his wife about the extension," Lee said.  "She didn't want him to come out here, but I guess she'll know now."

Still, Iraq is a pretty big place and the chance of running into each other was slim.  That was until they saw each other at the chow hall.

Since reuniting, the two brothers have spent every minute available with each other, helping ease the hardships and loneliness often experienced during deployments.

"Whenever I'm not working, I'm with him," Southern said.  "It doesn't matter if he's at work or not."

Being together in a combat zone also makes things easier with their family.

"When we're at the phone center we sit there and exchange the phone back and forth to talk to family members," Lee explained.  "I've always felt responsible for looking out for him.  So now that we're together, I think it has eased some of those back home."

Lee's family tied a yellow ribbon for everyone in his shop.  He said they worry a lot for him and his brother and all the military over here.

The two do everything together, from physical training to shopping at the exchange.  They also share most of what they have receiving including shared packages and letters.

"Being together makes being deployed a lot easier," Lee said.  "He isn't just my brother, he's my best friend.  Having him here makes me a lot less home sick."

Southern will be returning home in the next few months to pursue a career in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office.  Leaving his brother behind, though for only a few months, will be difficult for him.

"The major reason I came here was for my brother," Southern said.

The inseparable brothers don't take their unique opportunity lightly.  They know it was part careful planning and bit of intervention that helped them to enjoy their deployment.

"I can't lie," Lee said.  "I'm lucky to have him here."