FORT HOOD, Texas – When brothers Michael, Allen and Reginald Mouton of the Army's Ironhorse Brigade got their orders for Iraq, they could have asked the military to split them up. But they say they never even considered asking.
They will ship out for the Middle East next month, an extremely rare instance of three brothers from the same unit being sent to the same base in a combat zone.
They will be, in every sense, brothers in arms.
"Lord forbid if the ultimate price is paid. It is hard to imagine that," said Staff Sgt. Reginald Mouton, 31. But he said it is important "to be there with your brother and know you can support the other brother and you can tell your family, 'I was there with him and he didn't suffer.'"
Reginald is a medic who runs a battalion aid station for about 1,000 troops. Allen, a 40-year-old first sergeant, leads about 100 soldiers in a combat group, and Michael, 42, also a first sergeant, does the same for a logistical support group.
During World War II, the five fighting Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, were killed when their cruiser was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. After that, Congress considered forbidding siblings to serve together in wartime.
The Army still permits family members to serve together, but they can ask to be separated. If one of the Moutons had asked for reassignment, for example, his commanding officer could have sent him to another base in Iraq or allowed him to stay behind in the United States.
The Mouton brothers said they take comfort in knowing they will be together in the 3,800-member Ironhorse Brigade, even though Allen said that for the Mouton family, it amounts to "putting all your eggs in one basket." The brothers are their mother's only offspring. (She also has a stepson from her remarriage.)
"I am just going to have a lot of my worry and prayers focused in one area," said their mother, Peggy Austin, a nursing supervisor in Houston. "And that is the best way I can look at it."
Pentagon officials said they could not immediately recall any recent instances in which siblings asked not to serve together in the same unit. And the Army said it does not track how often family members serve together.
But the deployment of three brothers from the same brigade to the same forward operating base — the military would not say exactly where the Moutons will be based — is almost unheard of, a Pentagon spokesman said.
"It is very rare," said Army Lt. Col. Lee Packnett. "There are many siblings in the Army, but rarely do you have even two in the same unit."
It will be the second tour of the duty in Iraq for the Mouton brothers but the first time all three have been in country at the same time. Reginald took part in the initial invasion but was back in the states by the time Michael and Allen shipped out.
The brothers say they have always been close. Michael and Allen used to race motorcycles against each another, and they still compete in video games. Michael is building a house in Killeen, down the street from Allen's four-bedroom place.
"We're not only like brothers but we're best friends," Allen said. "We're always there to help each other, whether it's moving or working on cars."
Allen was the first to enlist, after high school in 1984. He signed up for three years so that he could join the Houston Police Department when he got out. But Army life suited him. Michael, then working in a drug store, joined three months later.
"Allen called home one day and gave some great reviews," Michael said. "I was like, `Man, this sounds more exciting than what I'm doing now. '"
Allen, having proved his persuasiveness within his family, became an Army recruiter and helped Reginald sign up after the youngest brother had taken nursing classes.
The brothers, all of whom are married with children, said they have no qualms about returning to Iraq. The hardest part is the separation from family, they said, which is another reason they are happy they will be together.
"When times get hard and you get lonely and you miss home, you have someone from home that you can talk to," Reginald said.
As for the worry they are causing their mother, Reginald said: "No mother wants her child in harm's way. But she is a strong believer in God and does a lot of praying. She doesn't want us there, but she knows whatever is going to happen will happen."