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FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan – Army Sgt. 1st Class Mica Snell and his brother, Army Staff Sgt. Justin Snell were born and grew up in Derby, Kan. Less than two years apart in age, they went to the same schools at the same time and more often than not, had the same friends.
Justin moved to Green Valley, Ariz., when he was 16 and graduated from high school there, while Mica stayed and graduated from Derby High. After high school, Mica attended two years of college before joining the Army in early 2001. After Justin graduated, he went to the University of Arizona for three years.
When Mica joined the Army, he enlisted as a Patriot launching station enhanced operator and maintainer. He was assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas, and took advantage of the location, visiting Justin numerous times in Arizona.
Like many big brothers, when Justin came to him and said that he wanted to join, Mica advised him to first finish school. And if Justin was still interested in the Army after graduating, he should seek an officer’s commission, Mica advised. Like many younger brothers, Justin didn’t listen and enlisted anyway, as an infantryman.
Mica was still at Fort Bliss when Justin joined and was assigned to the 112th Signal Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2005. Later that year, Mica was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team and what followed would be a time in his career he’s never forgotten. He and Justin were able to train together, jump together, attend unit functions together and Justin was even able to pin Mica when he was promoted to staff sergeant.
Soon after, the brothers would be separated by multiple deployments and changes of duty stations that made seeing each other almost impossible. After a deployment to the Philippines, Justin deployed in November 2005 and was assigned to the scout platoon of 1st Armored Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, at Fort Bliss.
“In the summer of 2009, Justin called me and told me that he was getting married in Houston and wanted me to be his best man,” Mica said. “Of course, I accepted and met him in Houston. Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see him for over four years.”
Before Justin returned from his first deployment, Mica had been deployed to Iraq. Justin returned to Fort Bragg, switched units and deployed to Iraq before Mica returned to Bragg. Justin followed suit, changing units and quickly deploying to Iraq for 12 months.
The deployments continued, and the brothers continued to just miss each other.
In 2008, Mica was assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, in Vicenza, Italy, deploying to Afghanistan’s Logar and Wardak provinces in May 2010.
After the 173rd’s return from Afghanistan, Mica stayed busy and began to prepare for his next deployment, less than two years away. During that time, Justin called to tell Mica that he would be walking in his footsteps, as his unit would also be in Logar and Wardak.
The closer it got to Mica’s next deployment, the more he was able to find out, ultimately learning that the 173rd was headed back to Logar and Wardak. More importantly, Mica’s unit would be replacing Justin’s.
“I can remember driving to Rome with my dad during Thanksgiving of 2011, and at that time I knew there was going to be a chance we could meet,” Mica said.
That feeling became stronger when Mica found out the brothers would be moving through the same outposts and operating bases at the same time.
“I knew we could meet when I found out that I was going to [Forward Operating Base] Altimur, and that Justin was moving from his combat outpost to Altimur during the same time that I was going to be there,” Mica said. “When we left Aviano, there was no doubt I was going to see him.”
Mica and soldiers of the 173rd left Aviano Air Base, Italy. Expecting to arrive at the transit center in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, in less than 10 hours, the soldiers instead found themselves in transit for almost a week.
While the days passed by, Mica feared that his opportunity to see his brother was passing with them.
When he finally arrived at here, Mica already was tracking his brother’s movements, and knew Justin made it to nearby Altimur. The brothers were separated by no more than a short drive.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mickey Rutledge, command sergeant major of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team’s 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, stepped in and bridged the gap. Rutledge let Mica stay in place here an extra day. That extra day was all the brothers needed, as Justin rolled in shortly after.
The 1st Battalion representative there brought joy to another Snell family member, bringing the brothers to the other side of base, where they could have a hot meal and call their mother to let her know her boys were safe.
“There it is again,” Mica said. “Another amazing experience in my career that involved my brother, the greatest warrior I know.”