CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Many Soldiers, past and present, have followed their father's footsteps and joined the Army, keeping a tradition of service intact through the decades.
Few, however, can say they have served alongside their father in a combat environment.
Pfc. Alfonzo Branch Jr. is one of these few, as he and his father, Sgt. 1st Class Alfonzo Branch, find themselves stationed together, here, both with the 1st Cavalry Division and far removed from their hometown of Philadelphia.
Branch, the first sergeant for Company E, 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cav. Division, said the Army was an escape from the inner city streets of Philadelphia, helping him become a role model for his son.
"I grew up right in the heart of Philadelphia, so in that environment there's a lot of drugs and all types of things for a child to get involved in that can cause their life to come to a screeching halt," Branch said. "It's a constant struggle and a lot of the kids I grew up with are still there."
To escape falling into this lifestyle, Branch said the military was his way out.
"I wanted something better for my life and after seeing it all with my own eyes it didn't appeal to me and I had to get out of there," Branch said.
Branch joined the Army and made it a career and not wanting his son to fall into any traps, recommended it to him as an alternative to the city streets.
"I showed him a lot of things the Army offered. I let him see that I was able to buy a house and I was able to afford a car," Branch said. "I was also a drill sergeant so I could say, 'Hey, this is what to expect when you come inside.'"
Branch Jr., a radio operator maintainer for Company B, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div., said he was convinced and signed up, although he was dismayed to find he was put on orders for Alaska as his first duty station.
"I didn't know what to expect ... all I could think of was being freezing cold," Branch Jr. said. "I had Fort Wainwright, so I called my father, he pulled some strings and I ended up coming to the Cav."
Soon after arriving at Fort Hood, Branch Jr. deployed for the first time and his father followed several months later, which he said raised his morale.
"It was comforting," Branch Jr. said. "Once he got here I could go visit him and talk about home. It's better because he's someone I can relate to and we've been through the same things."
The elder Branch said the deployment has been a series of firsts for him, giving Operation Iraqi Freedom added meaning.
"This is my first deployment, with my first born and I'm a first sergeant in 'First Attack.' All of these firsts mean something ... it's like a blessing," Branch said. "All of the time that I've missed with my son, I can't make it all up. But this time right here is critical. I can do something about it and I'm bonding with my son, my own flesh and blood."
Branch Jr. said although his father was gone much of the time when he was young, he always knew he was there for him.
"I don't really think about the time that he wasn't there," Branch Jr. said. "He did what he had to do; he provided for us and put a roof over our heads for me and my little sister."
Branch however is thankful for the time together and said this is an ideal time to be deployed.
"What better time, what better place and what better circumstances to deploy and be in combat than with your father?" Branch said. "We're side by side, and we're fighting and living together in the same fight and making history."
Although their work schedules vary, Branch Jr. said he makes the most of his time with his father.
"It's hard for me to get down to see him, but when I do we go the gym, we'll play games and talk," Branch Jr. said. "It gives me a boost of confidence knowing he's down the road."
Branch said being able to do these things with his son while deployed is already one of the fondest memories of his Army career.
"This by far will be the best memory that I can sit down and tell my grandkids about," Branch said. "I was a first sergeant in combat and had the opportunity to lead Soldiers in combat."
"Then to have my own son in combat with me and give him all the fruits that I've learned throughout the years in the military and look at him not only as a son but a Soldier, is one of the greatest things in the world," he added.
"It will be something that I take with me the rest of my life," Branch said.
This work, Father and son deployed together with "First Team", by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.