Contributed Photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika There are three sets of siblings serving together in Troop R 3rd Squadron of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Pictured above, from left, are Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cross, of Chattanooga; Staff Sgt. Robin Oyer, of Chickamagua, Ga.; Sgt. 1st Class Billy Cross, of Ringgold, Ga.; Spc. Anthony Dawson, of Pikeville, Tenn. Seated atop the Humvee is Spc. Adam Lee, of Chickamauga. Spc. Lee and Staff Sgt. Oyer are brother and sister. Sgt. 1st Class Cross and Staff Sgt. Cross are brothers. Also serving in the unit but not pictured is Spc. Darrel Cross, brother of Spc. Anthony Cross.
CAMP SHELBY, Miss. -- Soldiers often call each other "brother," but for three sets of siblings in a Chattanooga-based unit, that title is more than a word.
For one set, having family nearby when deploying to a combat zone has become second nature. For another, it's a chance for a big sister to give her little brother a little advice. And for two brothers on their first deployment, it's no big deal.
More than 3,200 soldiers with the Knoxville-based 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment are now training here for a yearlong mission to Iraq. Among those, Troop R, 3rd Squadron, is made up of 131 soldiers from around Tennessee, more than 80 of them from the Chattanooga area.
At 47, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cross, of Chattanooga, may be the older brother, but 45-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Billy Cross, of Ringgold, Ga., holds rank on the job. The two brothers have served 17 and 20 years, respectively, in the regular Army and Tennessee Army National Guard.
They have served together for most of that time and also work together in their own painting business when not wearing combat gear.
This is the third deployment faced by the pair. Both are a part of the 1/181st Field Artillery Battalion based in Chattanooga. Soldiers from the unit were assigned to Troop R to help build manpower for the 278th's mission in Iraq.
Both brothers went to Iraq on the 278th's first deployment in 2004 and returned for a second tour in 2007 with the 1/181st.
In 2004, the two were together only for the first few weeks, but three years later with the 1/181st, the men worked at Camp Bucca, a detainee prison in southern Iraq near the Kuwait border.
Each Saturday that fall, they would meet up to watch Tennessee Volunteer football games or NASCAR races.
"Yeah, he's a Kyle Bush fan, but I can't stand him," said Sgt. 1st Class Cross. "I'd say, 'Yeah, your boy got put in the wall today.'"
The sergeant said having his brother with him each time was helpful, especially when the stress of problems at home built.
"I feel bad for my mother because it breaks her heart every time," said Sgt. 1st Class Cross. "I waited as long as I could before I told her about this one."
In another set of siblings, a big sister is helping her younger brother on his first deployment to Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Robin Oyer, 47, of Chickamauga, Ga., is heading into her third deployment, so she has some advice for her 26-year-old brother, Spc. Adam Lee.
"You're going to have days when you wished you were home," Staff Sgt. Oyer told her brother early on. "That's OK. Everybody's like that."
The sergeant said she plays two roles -- one as a sister, the other as a senior noncommissioned officer.
"If I see him doing something wrong or something he needs to know, I give him a heads up," she said.
Spc. Lee said he's gotten some good guidance from his sister, but when he does see her, he tries to talk about something other than the deployment.
"We're going to be on this deployment for a long time," he said. "We talk about other things."
Spc. Anthony Dawson, 21, and Spc. Darrel Dawson, 20, both of Pikeville, Tenn., are going through their first deployment preparations, but they've already learned a lot from their mother and father.
Their father, Sgt. Larry Dawson, met their mother, Sgt. Esperance Dawson, when the two were in the U.S. Marine Corps. When the two boys were still in school, their parents left the Marines and later joined the Guard together.
Sgt. Larry Dawson went to Iraq in 2007 with the 1/181st, while Sgt. Esperance Dawson heads to Kuwait in one year with the 230th Sustainment Brigade.
When their father left for Iraq, Spc. Anthony Dawson was in Guard job training, Spc. Darrel Dawson was in boot camp and their mother was in training at another Army base.
"So we know what it's like to be apart," Spc. Anthony Dawson said.
The two brothers said they don't hang out too much during their training, but when they do, talk turns to the "important stuff" like video games and movies, laughed Spc. Anthony Dawson.
As a family, they don't talk much about service, the specialist said.
"It depends. For the first few days it's, 'How was your drill?'"
"It's very, very hard for them. They get through it, my family's strong." Staff Sgt. Robin Oyer talking about how her family handles both her and her brother Spc. Adam Lee being on deployment at the same time.
"It's a lot different than just having friends with you." -- Sgt. 1st Class Billy Cross
"The main thing I learned from (my Dad) was the battle with boredom. I'm hoping just to battle boredom." -- Spc. Darrel Dawson
"I feel bad for my mother because it breaks her heart every time."
-- Sgt. 1st Class Billy Cross
"You're going to have days when you wished you were home. That's OK. Everybody's like that."
-- Staff Sgt. Robin Oyer
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...