Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan – The storied bond between Marines has proven one of the greatest strengths in combat for the world’s finest fighting force. Two Marines serving here have strong roots that fuse them tighter than the title they share.
They’re not quite blood brothers, but might as well be. They became inseparable since their parents started dating in 1996. And although they are not technically brothers, they still consider each other family.
When Sgts. Cory Neal and Vincent Laughlin met as teenagers, they never imagined serving together in the military. Instead, they spent their summers in Bronx, NY, pulling pranks and chasing girls.
So it was somewhat surprising when the teenagers both wanted to talk to the other about joining the Marine Corps. Neither had expressed an interest while growing up.
“We were just walking the streets like normal the summer before my junior year and I told him I was thinking about joining the Corps,” said Neal, serving with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward)’s Personal Security Detachment here. “I expected him to talk me out of it, but he said he had been thinking about the same thing.”
Laughlin tells the story a little differently.
“I told him I wanted to join, and he waited to see if I would actually do it,” he said with a laugh.
The mutual support encouraged the pair to bring the news to their parents who were both veterans. Although Laughlin’s father, a former Coast Guardsman, supported the idea, Neal’s mother initially disagreed. Yet, a little persuading and a few promises about job choice finally won her over.
The step brothers prepared for the rigors of training together, but left for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., about three weeks apart. Laughlin was anxious to begin his new career, but Neal wanted to enjoy his last bit of time as a civilian.
Although they left their civilian lives behind almost a month apart, they ended up serving in the same company and living in the same barracks at boot camp; a situation unbeknownst to them until about halfway through training.
“We ran into each other after church one day, snuck off to the side and were able to talk for a few minutes,” said Neal. “Seeing each other and getting to talk to someone who cared made it easier.”
Neal and his brother saw each other once more in training as their platoons marched past each other. Neal, more than a month from graduating, remembers feeling proud of his brother, graduating in a few weeks.
The two were sent to different duty stations on the West Coast after graduating. Laughlin went to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center TwentyNine Palms, Calif., and Neal went to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Though the two brothers were busy with their new units, they visited each other on weekends.
Laughlin’s first deployment to Iraq in 2005 as a motor transportation Marine interrupted those weekend visits. Neal deployed next to Iraq, and Laughlin deployed twice more in the following years. The brothers even crossed paths for a few days at Camp Al Asad, Iraq.
“Seeing him even for those few days brought my spirits up,” said Laughlin, who was spending most of his time outside the wire as part of an embedded training team. “We were just stopping to take real showers and get some food, and instead I ended up getting to see my brother.”
Laughlin finished his time in TwentyNine Palms and moved to Camp Pendleton right after Neal moved from Pendleton to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. Within months of their moves, the brothers both had orders to Afghanistan.
“I saw him off when he left from Miramar,” said Laughlin. “When I got orders I knew we would be in country together, but had no idea we would even be in the same area, much less the same base.”
Now they live just a few blocks apart and see each other at least once a week. They get together every Saturday to cut each other’s hair and catch up. They also lift weights or meet for lunch as often as possible.
“Part of what makes a deployment hard is missing your family and friends back home, but I have family right down the street,” said Neal. “Besides, I get free haircuts.”
Laughlin echoed his brother’s sentiments, explaining this deployment – his fourth so far – has been much easier having family close by.
They are serving with different units and doing very different jobs, however, sharing the bond of serving as Marines in a combat zone together is a memory that will last their lifetimes.