TAJI, Iraq — The often-heard phrase, 'it's a small Army,' is something many Soldiers say to each other when they depart a unit, leaving behind their friends and heading for pastures anew.
In other words, a long lost face might be seen at the most obscure location or time, despite the Army's many installations around the world.
For two senior warrant officers of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade currently serving together at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, not only is it a small Army, but a small world. Thirty-one years is proof of that.
Chief Warrant Officers Michael Reese and Scott McLendon have crossed paths for a large duration of the past 31 years. From attending high school together in the late 70's in their hometown, up until their present day duties side by side in the 1st ACB, both men have forged a significant history together.
Reese, from Copperas Cove, Texas, the brigade standardizations instructor pilot, 1st ACB, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division — Baghdad, said he first met McLendon in 1978, when both attended Copperas Cove High School.
"He graduated a year after I did, but I knew his sister very well and she graduated with me," Reese said of his high school relationship with McLendon. "We weren't buddies and we didn't hang out on weekends, but we were acquaintances if anything."
McLendon, also from Copperas Cove, Texas, the brigade safety officer, 1st ACB, also said he and Reese were not close friends, but knew Reese nonetheless.
"My sister was in his class, but I knew of him because he played football," McLendon said. "We knew each other in passing mostly."
Eventually Reese graduated in 1981, followed by McLendon a year later, both taking different paths on their way to the Army.
Reese, a self proclaimed military brat, had seen his father serve in the Army and undertake several tours in Vietnam and realized at an early age he would take the same path.
"I knew I was going to do this as early as the 6th grade because my dad was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and that's where I got the same desire," Reese said. "My dad retired at Fort Hood and, actually, Scott and I were both born at Hood too, at the old Darnell hospital."
Upon graduation, Reese attended college and got his degree in 1985, before joining the Army and immediately entering flight school.
McLendon's direction prior to joining the Army took another route and saw him working at a grocery store and an oil company, before he opted to follow his father's footsteps and serve his country.
"I needed a change of scenery and my dad was retired military, so that was the only life I'd really known," McLendon said. "I decided to give the military a shot and my original plan was to fly helicopters."
McClendon said he became sidetracked and didn't pursue his goal of flying as strenuously as he should have, which led to some vital decisions.
"Me being an 18-year-old kid I thought I'd do the flight school thing later and have fun first," McLendon said. "I stayed enlisted for seven years and then I decided to either go to flight school or get out of the Army."
McLendon seized his opportunity and attended warrant officer school, followed by flight training, where he would once again meet Reese.
"I knew Mike [Reese] was in the Army and flying and I met him again when he became my Apache instructor in 1994," McLendon said.
Reese was an instructor pilot at Fort Rucker during this period and said despite having McLendon in his class, the two have always been equal with each other in terms of rank and respect.
"I didn't give him any officer professional development because we were more like peers," Reese said. "I'm a year senior to him as chief warrant officer 5 but we have been the same rank pretty much the whole way through the Army."
In the 15 years since that meeting, the pair has spent many years at Fort Hood together, serving numerous deployments and amassing over 8000 combined hours flying.
"I was in the 4th [Infantry Division] and that's where I linked up with Mike again," McLendon said. "Since then we have been stationed together several times."
Reese said the pair's stint in the 4th ID lasted five years before they ultimately ended up together in the 1st ACB, which is a positive thing for both men.
"I think it's good because you have someone you can entrust or count on," Reese said of his relationship with McLendon. "Typically the warrant officer ranks are close as far as bonding and friendships go and it's even better having someone you've known for so long."
Serving alongside Reese for so many years has also inspired McLendon, who enjoys the working relationship he has with Reese.
"It's always been very good and I'm sure if he needs somebody to vent to then he'd have no qualms coming to me," McLendon said.
Both McLendon and Reese still enjoy living in their hometown of Copperas Cove with both possibly seeking to retire there.
"When I do finish up in the Army I don't know for sure if I'll retire there," Reese said. "My parents are still there and I like the area but my wife is from Alabama and has 51 percent of the vote of where we will retire," Reese said laughing.
The town has changed a lot over the years, McClendon said, with living in his hometown having its good and negative aspects.
"The plusses are you are close to your family and the minuses are you are close to your family," McLendon joked. "The pluses outweigh the minuses and it's nicer to be closer to family the older you get."
McLendon recalls when the town was comprised of a one lane road back in the 70's to its current form as a 'six lane' highway heading through the town — changes Reese also notes.
"It's definitely changed," Reese said of the town he and McLendon grew up in. "Copperas Cove is a military town and when I go back now I don't see a lot of people that I graduated high school with in 1981. People move on, but it's still nice there."
With both men deployed in Iraq, Copperas Cove is again a distant memory, but Reese and McLendon are still flying together and continuing with the mission.
"It's good to have him as a wingman and I'm sure he feels the same way," Reese said. "We flew together yesterday for five hours and we know we can trust each other."
McLendon too is happy with him and Reese's careers as pilots and sums it all up with a flourish.
"We eat chow together, fly together and have a good history," McLendon said. "We're just two old boys from Copperas Cove that did okay."
This work, Senior warrant officers share 30 years of memories together, by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.