FALLUJAH, Iraq --
FALLUJAH, Iraq – As siblings grow from adolescence, they venture into adulthood and typically embark on their own paths in life. Some fly far away from the nest, while others strive to carry on family traditions. Some join the masses to work for a greater good, while others become independent and take the road less travelled.
Two Marines, who hail from Baton Rouge, La., essentially fall into all of these categories. They are brothers who became two of the few and the proud while carrying on a tradition of service members in their family.
Pfc. Travis Dodson, 21, graduated Marine Corps basic training September 2005. His brother, Lance Cpl. Lance Dodson, 19, followed in his footsteps and graduated basic training in April 2007.
The Dodsons are now serving in Iraq together in separate battalions. Both falling under Regimental Combat Team 1, Travis is with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and Lance is with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, are coincidentally serving in nearby areas of operation (AO).
The two follow a history of family members serving in the armed forces as their paternal grandfather was in the Army and maternal grandfather was in the Air Force. More recently, their father was a Marine staff sergeant who spent time as an explosive ordnance disposal technician at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Travis said his character is different from his father, who was the type of guy that picked up every rank meritoriously. Travis admitted that before entering the service he had a problem with authority.
Lance was a little less mischievous and outgoing as a teenager. He thought about going to school to study culinary arts before considering the military. But after he learned more about the Marine Corps, he dedicated his last year as a civilian to physical fitness and daily visits to a recruiter who would become an important person in the brothers’ lives.
The brothers met Staff Sgt. Joe Talbert, a Marine recruiter who frequently visited their high school while he was assigned to Recruiting Sub Station (RSS) Baton Rouge, and ultimately all became brothers-in-arms.
“My senior year in high school, I had to sit down and decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” said Travis, a team leader with Company F. “I talked to my dad and Staff Sgt. Talbert and just fell in love with the idea of becoming a Marine.”
The rough-and-tough nature of the Corps may have sealed the deal for Travis as he shipped off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Talbert said Travis was in the Delayed Entry Program for a while, which “gave him time to get in excellent physical shape, but he just had to stay out of trouble.”
“I did pretty well in boot camp,” Travis said. “I didn’t really like it when I first got there. I was the kind of kid who was hard-headed and never wanted to listen to anyone, especially with a guy in my face all of the time telling me what to do. But a couple of weeks into it, I fell in love with the physical aspects, the camaraderie and all of the brothers that you gain in the Marine Corps.”
Like Travis, Lance also fell in love with the idea of becoming a Marine. Lance became Talbert’s workout partner during his DEP time and visited the recruiting office every day. After he completed boot camp with no problems, Travis was already in Iraq on his first tour. From there the service member tradition was ongoing, as Talbert described.
“I think they kind of (continued) a family tradition,” Talbert said. “If they ever have kids of their own in the future, it will be tough trying to talk them out of wanting to be a Marine.”
The brothers also have a 13-year-old younger sibling who is likely to follow the same path.
Both brothers chose Talbert’s primary military occupational specialty (MOS) identified as 0311, or ‘grunt’ in the infantry field, but none of them ever imagined they would be serving with the same regiment in combat.
Talbert said as a recruiter, he was particular about taking only people he felt confident to fight alongside, but he admitted that he never thought he’d be as close to his Marines as he is now.
“I would judge (potential recruits) based on whether I wanted them to my left or right in the infantry field,” said Talbert, a native of Washington. “I was in Afghanistan during the initial invasion and I guess that’s why it was so important that they met that criteria. Both of them did. I guess I never thought I’d have (Lance) in the same platoon with me.”
Even before the start of their military careers, Travis and Lance began a personal relationship with Talbert. Now they say Talbert is a friend of the family and he keeps that bond by communicating with the Dodson family back in Baton Rouge.
“It kind of puts Mom’s mind at ease to tell her, ‘I’m going off to Iraq and I’ve got staff sergeant with me and my brother is going to be in the same AO,’” said Lance, who serves as a squad automatic weapon gunner in 2nd Platoon, Company L, with Talbert as his platoon sergeant. “She knows that people who have my back are with me.”
The three said although their commands are focused on the ongoing security transition to Iraqi security forces, they are kept well informed of each others’ status.
“My first sergeant and my chain of command do a good job of keeping me informed,” Travis said. “If anything significant happens in their AO, they’ll keep me updated on it and I’m sure his does the same thing.”
They said their mother is a little harder to keep calm. As with any parent, they described her as being on the edge of her seat while her oldest boys serve in a combat zone.
“You can never keep anything from her,” said Travis. “During my first deployment, I’d call and tell her everything is going alright and nothing is going on here. She’d say, ‘Oh bull! Your brother told me something blew up in your AO.’”
Their mother “conducts her investigations” on the two through telephone conversations to ensure they are safe.
“If something significant was going on over here, she would know because Travis calls mom and she asks if I’m all right, and I call and she asks the same thing about him, putting two and two together,” said Lance, who is serving his first tour here.
Travis said as an older brother, the worry for Lance gets to him occasionally even though he passes on his experience as an infantry Marine and offers encouragement for getting through a long deployment.
“I’m kind of glad he’s here, but then again I’m not,” Travis said. “The good is that I feel like I can protect him being closer even though I’m not (in his unit). But since he’s here closer to me, I guess that’s something I mentally enjoy. After he got stationed, we talked back and forth on the phone. I’d help him out every now and then and try to (pass) knowledge to him like he was one of my junior Marines.”
When their deployments are over, Travis will return with his unit to their home station at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, while Lance and his unit will return to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Despite the separation, these brothers-by-blood have grown to be brothers-in-arms with other Baton Rouge natives within the units and they keep their bond through frequent communication. Talbert, who served as the recruiter for the brothers and their friends, can be viewed as the hub of their network, ensuring that they all succeed.
“Everyone I dealt with, especially them, are perfect examples of (recruiting) on a personal level,” Talbert said. “The relationship you start with a person as a civilian and seeing them develop into a Marine; you want to see them succeed because they are a reflection of you. They are your ‘products’ and you want to see all of them be successful and gain something from it.”
The longest time the brothers have spent together since joining the Marine Corps was at home last Christmas and now in Iraq. They get together and don’t waste any time catching up on each other’s lives, reminiscing on the past and arguing over who has better seats to next season’s Louisiana State University football game. On a side note, they made it a point to emphasize how “LSU is the best football team ever.”
As the brothers have become seasoned war veterans, enduring the dog-days of desert heat and hard work, they reflect on growing out of their adolescent stages via the Corps.
“I take away (from the Marine Corps) a lot of experience leadership-wise,” Travis said. “When I was younger, I used to run around and do a lot of bad things. The Marine Corps taught me core values… and a lot of skills you’ll find nowhere else in the world.”
Lance had a similar response.
“I’ve learned a lot of responsibility with things like finances and such,” Lance said. “(The Marine Corps has) taught me how to deal with life. Plus the friends I have now are probably friends for life. If I ever get out of the Marine Corps and need help with something, they’ll always have my back.”
Talbert said the decision to bring the Baton Rouge brothers into the Marine Corps is one he has not regretted and his hope still lies in seeing them succeed even more achievements.
“You get that relationship established and then you stay concerned about them,” Talbert said. “I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing for them because you develop that brotherly relationship with the people you put in. I get to see (Lance) every day, but it’s good to see for myself that (Travis) is doing alright.”