January 7, 2008 Marine reservists glad to serve in same unit in Iraq
By Robert Channick, Special to the Tribune
Brian and Mike Wiebe shared everything, from friends to a passion for football, while growing up in northwest suburban Rolling Meadows.
On Monday, the brothers will return to a Marine Corps base in California to complete intensive training that will prepare both for a tour of duty in Iraq.
"I couldn't really be happier to be in with somebody like my own brother," said Lance Cpl. Mike Wiebe, 20. "It's comforting thinking that he's there with me."
Wiebe and his brother enlisted in a Chicago-based Marine Reserve unit -- the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines -- which was called to active duty in September. The brothers had been home for the holidays but will return to the Twentynine Palms base before shipping out in a few weeks.
Mike Wiebe, the younger brother, enlisted on his 18th birthday while a senior at Rolling Meadows High School. He was an all-conference center in football but passed up a possible scholarship to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb to join the military. "That was a tough decision," he said. "But it was something I knew I wanted to do since the beginning of high school."
The two are assigned to different companies within the battalion. Trained for infantry, Mike Wiebe will be a convoy driver, and Brian Wiebe will be as a radio operator.
But brothers serving in the same combat unit is unusual, officials said.
"It's not commonplace, but it does happen every once in a while," said Maj. Jay Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman.
Lance Cpl. Brian Wiebe, 23, was a fullback on the 2003 National Junior College Championship football team at Harper College in Palatine. He was studying criminal justice at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago when he was inspired to enlist in 2006, after seeing the transformation in his younger brother.
"I went to his graduation from boot camp, and I decided that this is what I want to do," said Brian Wiebe, who also works as a part-time community service officer for Park Ridge police. "Seeing that change from when you go in as a civilian and you come out as a Marine, it's a big difference."
That the two will be deployed together is a comfort and a concern for their parents and younger brother, Patrick.
"Any parent would be worried," said their father, Brian Sr., 52, a longtime Rolling Meadows resident and superintendent of public works in Park Ridge. "At least I know they're there together."
Also in the same unit is Marcus Brightwell, a neighbor who played football with them in high school.
Mike Wiebe took advantage of the holiday leave to marry his high school sweetheart, Ashley Pera. After a civil ceremony last week and small reception. They are planning for a honeymoon getaway upon his return from Iraq.
Though Brian Wiebe considers his entire unit a band of brothers, he shares some of his parents' concerns -- at least for the newly married Mike, if not for himself.
"I think it would be tougher if I were at home," he said. "I'd rather be out there with him."