While the U.S. Army has bases across the globe, it can be a small world for some soldiers.
Take, for instance, twin brothers Col. Robb Mitchell and Lt. Col. Todd Mitchell, 45, both 1990 graduates of Springfield High School.
The brothers have been in the Army for the past 24 years. Both attended Airborne Jump School together in 1991, and since then their career paths have crossed several times. Both served in the legendary 101st Airborne Division, and both were deployed to Iraq — Todd in 2006 to 2007 and Robb in 2007 to 2008.
A few years later, they served in Afghanistan. Todd was stationed at Forward Operation Base Salerno in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009, while Robb was at the same base in 2010 to 2011.
“During my career, there are several people I’ve crossed paths with,” Todd said. “You develop close relationships to folks when you’ve been together for several months, and then you see them several years later as you cross paths in other units. That’s fairly common — I just don’t know how common it is for twins.”
The Mitchells are the sons of Janet Sue Douglass Maxwell of Fort Myers, Florida, and local author Ken Mitchell, who wrote, “North End Pride,” a book about Lanphier High School.
Ken Mitchell served in the Army Reserves, and the brothers said their family’s connection to the military was part of the reason they joined the Illinois National Guard in 1989.
Serving in the Guard also paid for college. Todd initially went to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and Robb went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Both were involved in ROTC programs, which is how they ended up in the same airborne training class at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1991. After learning the basics on the ground, they found themselves on the same plane as they prepared for their first parachute jump.
“That was exciting,” Robb said with a chuckle. “I don’t think anything can prepare you emotionally for it. But they teach you, step-by-step, everything you have to do so you don’t have to think when you’re standing there in the door and it’s time for you to jump out. Luckily, I followed the instructions and I didn’t freeze.”
Once outside the plane, Robb looked up and saw that his chute had opened.
“I was doing a victory cheer I was so excited. After that, all you have to do is worry about the landing, and luckily, that was soft,” Robb added.
Like his brother, Todd said the steps leading up to jumping out the door of the plane were all automatic due to the training that he had.
“Once they started giving the commands of check your stuff, stand up, hook yourself up, get ready to go, it was all on auto-pilot. Once we were out of the aircraft and the chute popped, the first thought was, wow, this is amazing.”
The brothers did five jumps at airborne school. Three of the jumps were at night.
Todd said they dim the lights in the airplane during the night jumps so the soldiers’ eyes can acclimate to the dark.
“It’s difficult, to say the least,” Todd said of the night jumps. “You can see the other parachutes around you enough to steer away from them and you can see the ground approaching, so you know when to get ready to land.”
During one of the jumps, Robb landed a little hard.
“One of the landings was pretty hard. It rang my bell,” Robb said. “I hit my head. I was seeing purple for a little bit, but it wasn’t as bad of a landing as some of the other folks had. All in all, it was a positive experience and it made me very proud.”
Todd transferred to the University of Illinois for his final two years. Both remained in the ROTC program and joined the Army as second lieutenants after graduation. Both were commissioned as field artillery officers and attended artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
After completing field artillery school, Robb was assigned as a fire support officer with the First Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, then part of the 2nd infantry Division. The unit was stationed in South Korea near the demilitarized zone.
Todd also was stationed in South Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division 1996-97 in an artillery battalion.
Todd did another tour in Korea from 2001 to 2003. He was out on maneuvers on Sept. 11, 2001, and did not see footage of the terrorist attacks until a week later. Robb was in Germany during 9/11 and his unit immediately went on guard duty to provide security for military families in the area.
“Before 9/11, the threats were focused on Korea and you were waiting to see what was going to come out of Russia after the Soviet Union folded. China wasn’t on the radar screen back then. You understood there was a terrorist threat out there, but it wasn’t close to home yet,” Robb said. “After 9/11, it was definitely, hey, the terrorist threat is the primary threat against America, so we need to roll up our sleeves and do some work in that area.”
Both brothers would deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan at different times.
Todd served in a military transition team in Iraq near the Iranian border in 2005. Their mission was to intercept bomb-making materials used in improvised explosive devices.
In 2007-08, Robb deployed with a military transition team to Iraq near Sadr City in Baghdad where he advised the Iraqi army on convoy movements, leadership and command strategies.
Todd went to Afghanistan in 2008 and served at Forward Operating Base Salerno, and Robb was sent to the base in 2010. The base was nicknamed “Rocket City” due to the numerous rocket and mortar attacks directed against the facility.
“I followed Todd on both of those tours. I went to Iraq a year after he returned and I went to Afghanistan a year after he returned,” Robb said.
Currently, Todd is a professor of military science and ROTC commander at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Needless to say, he’s an enthusiastic supporter for the ROTC program and the Army.
“If there is a job in the civilian sector, then there is a job in the military that does the same thing. The military is the best-kept secret for training leadership in an organization,” Todd said.
Todd is getting ready to deploy to Germany where he will be working in theater support command.
Robb works at the Pentagon as the chief of equipment, plans, policy and strategy. The job involves designing equipment that soldiers will use in the future.
“I’m involved in designing the equipment of the future,” Robb said.
©2018 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.
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