Military News

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Brothers serve together in Alaska

by Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs

7/30/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- When polled with the question, "Who or what do you fight for?" many Soldiers may have a variation of the words "family, honor, country ... my brother or sister next to me in the trenches" somewhere in their answer. The brotherhood spirit pervasive throughout the Army is sometimes literal.

For Michael and William Plachinski, brothers and Army first sergeants stationed in Alaska, the bond of brotherhood couldn't be stronger.

Michael, 40, is stationed at Fort Wainwright, with the 9th Army Band. His younger brother, William, 36, is stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson with Easy Company, 725th Brigade Support Battalion. Both are the senior enlisted advisors to their respective commanders.

Different paths
Blood relatives serving at the same time and location in the military is not an altogether uncommon occurrence, but the uniqueness of the Plachinski brothers' story lies in their having achieved such senior rank through different paths. However, both used hard work and the mentorship of the other to pave their way to success.

"It was 1992," Michael said. "I was getting married. It was crazy. I graduated high school in June, got married in July and left for the Army in August. I wanted that sense of adventure, college opportunity, and a job. I guess I kind of wanted to grow up."

Michael initially enlisted under an administrative military occupational specialty, but fortune allowed him to try out for the band in 1993. As a former all-state band trumpeter, Michael's musical talent and worth ethic earned him a spot. His career took a steady upward trajectory.

A few years later, in 1998, William had to cross the same life-decision bridges his brother had previously encountered.

"I too, was getting married," William said. "I decided not to join right away and to work construction for a couple of years out of high school. I found it very difficult to have insurance and stay in that line of work. I visited Mike for a hunting trip the month before I joined. I saw the benefits of what the Army was doing for him and thought, 'This isn't a bad gig. I should check it out.'"

William also grew up playing musical instruments, but opted to enlist as a heavy-wheeled vehicle mechanic.

"I thought I was going to do three years and then get out," William said. "From construction, I knew how to take care of my house. The second important investment you have is your vehicle. I figured if I joined the Army, I'd learn how to take care of my vehicles, plus have a marketable skill."

William's career began following the same steady progression as his brother's.

Good fortune afforded the brothers the ability to be stationed together at Fort Bragg, N.C., from 2005 to 2008. However, due to numerous deployments, they were only able to spend about 10 months there at the same time.

Arctic warriors
In 2004, William, his wife, and two kids visited Michael's family (a wife and four kids) for Christmas in Fort Wainwright, where Michael was serving what would be the first of two tours in Alaska. William's family fell in love with the state.

"At first, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go jump out of airplanes in the cold," William said. "But, being able to spend time with my brother trumped that, so I said 'To hell with it, let's see if we can both get stationed back up here.' And we have loved it. I have a year left, but I'm trying get an in-place overseas consecutive tour that would put me at 20 years and allow me to retire here. I want to grow some roots here."

The needs of the Army and career progression were in the Virginia Beach, Va. natives' favor. William was assigned to JBER in 2013, and Michael was able to get orders back to Fort Wainwright the following year.

Upward bound
Both brothers said one essential part of climbing up the ladder was seizing leadership opportunities and training courses whenever possible.

"Being in the band, we have a field that is full of educated people," Michael said. "I've got guys in my unit who are working on their doctorate degrees. I've worked hard on the soldiering side. I went to Airborne School, I went to Air Assault School, went on deployments, and became a recruiter for a time. I volunteered for tough assignments. I think those are some of the things that helped separate me. That in no way discounts the importance of education, because that is extremely important. But you also have to set yourself apart through hard work."

William used that same hard work ethic to set himself apart as well. The brothers' airborne bond is one of great pride, both having graduated from Airborne School. Michael has also attended Air Assault school, earning him the distinction of wearing two sets of wings on his uniform. William is a master-rated jump master, wearing one set of wings with a star over them signifying an advanced parachutist rating.

"When I graduated jump school in '99, Mike pinned my airborne wings on me," William said. "Fast forward to 2005, Mike goes to Airborne School and I brought those same wings down to his graduation and pinned him. It was a surreal moment."

While ever supportive, William doesn't let Michael off the hook about the fact he has a higher skill level than his big brother.

"If air assault mattered, they'd pay you to do it," William said to his brother with a baiting smile. "It's better to be a jumpmaster than a novice paratrooper and air assault."

Brothers in arms
Michael takes the ribbing in stride and points to their true feelings towards each other as more indicative of their relationship.

"Billy is by far my best friend," Michael said. "It can get lonely at the top. The higher in rank you get, the more the position forces to have less social involvement with your Soldiers. I've been fortunate to have my brother there, really my whole life, but especially during my career."

William didn't hesitate to name Michael his best friend and most trusted mentor.

"We talk on the phone every day," William said. "We are constantly calling each other after work. 'Hey, I got this situation, what would you do?' Of course, keeping operational security and personal data out of it, but we constantly have these conversations. We've done that our whole careers, trying to figure out what the best approach is to personal or professional obstacles."

Top sergeants
The Plachinskis said they feel their family lives and professional lives compliment each other.

"A lot of what the Army has given me, I feel like has probably made me a pretty good dad," Michael said. "And, I think a lot of what my kids have given me has made me into a pretty good first sergeant."

William said he agreed.

"In this line of work, being a first sergeant, you're playing a parent role," William said. "Sometimes, you have to nurture and sometimes you have to punish. I think our family values and core beliefs help us to do this job better than we otherwise could."

William said working with Soldiers was the most rewarding part of the job.

"I want them to be able to go even further than I have," the younger Plachinski said. "It's like with your kids ... you want set them up to achieve far greater success than you did, so you work for that every day."

William said his ultimate dream would be to be able to retire in Alaska and he's trying to talk his brother into the same thing.

"Mike still won't give me an answer on this," William said with a chuckle. "But I want us to settle down with our families here and grow some roots - the Alaska Plachinskis."

Brothers in arms and brothers in blood -- while the two classifications may mean different things to different people, for the veteran first sergeants, they mean the same thing.

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