CAMP SPANN, Afghanistan, Sept. 23, 2013 – These days, the heavy thing draped over Army Sgt. Manolito “Manny” Molinos’ shoulders is body armor. His younger brother, Army Spc. Mark Molinos, carries the same load and attaches a radio to his.
Army Sgt. Manolito “Manny” Molinos, left, and his brother, Army Spc. Mark Molinos, once represented Guam in international weightlifting competitions. Now the Guam National Guard soldiers are serving in Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Edward Siguenza (Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But there was a time when the brothers from the Guam Army National Guard’s Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, carried the hopes of their fellow Guamanians on their shoulders. In some ways, they still do, but just in a far different role.
It’s been more than a decade when Manny, Mark and older brother Edgar were mainstays of the Guam Weightlifting Federation. They represented Guam in the 1999 Guam-hosted South Pacific Games.
“It’s pretty much Edgar who got us into this,” Mark said. “We saw he was doing pretty well in weightlifting. He got us into it.”
In the 1990s, Edgar was Guam’s golden child of weightlifting, representing the island at the 1992 Summer Olympics and successfully medaling at the 1991 Papua New Guinea and 1995 Tahiti South Pacific Games. He led Manny into the 1994 and 1998 Micronesian Games, and both brothers into the 1999 South Pacific Games.
But Edgar didn’t lead his brothers into the military. They did that on their own, and now Mark and Manny are part of another successful “international” Guam team.
“Weightlifting and the military are totally different worlds,” Manny said. “You compete against athletes from other nations in the sport. But out here, on deployment, you’re competing against life.”
A team leader and electronic warfare noncommissioned officer, Manny is on his third Operation Enduring Freedom tour and fourth mission overall. This is Mark’s first OEF mission. Task Force Guam has about 30 family pairs on this mission, but the Molinos brothers are one of the few sibling pairs in the same unit; they even serve in the same platoon.
“The advantage of that is the two brothers have themselves to fall back on when they go through tough times. That definitely gives them strength,” said Army 1st Lt. Peter Guerrero, Alpha Company commander. “But it’s also a double-edged sword. If something happens, you don’t just take out one from the company, you take out two.”
Mark and Manny realize that. When they arrived here, they avoided being on the same mission. If Mark goes out, Manny stays on the compound, and vice versa. Yet unit manpower and responsibilities have changed recently. Now they both roll on the same missions, but in different vehicles.
“It makes it easier knowing I have family here, actual blood,” Mark said. “In fact we’ve gotten a lot closer than we’ve ever been. It’s a little hard for our parents to know we’re both here at the same place, but having blood here makes it a lot easier.”
“Our families know the dangers of being on the same unit, but they also understand the positives,” Manny added. “There’s always going to be that older-brother feeling. I always want to check how he’s doing. Our families see the positives to this, but they also know it’s dangerous.”
Mark, 30, is a radio operator. He’s the youngest of five siblings. Manny, 37, is next-youngest but already has served 11 years in the Guam National Guard.
After the Molinos brothers left the sport, Guam’s weightlifting program hasn’t been the same. In fact, Guam didn’t even send a weightlifting team to the 2005 or 2011 South Pacific Games.
“We tried to come back,” Manny said, “but a lot of policies changed and a lot of other things changed the sport. That kept us from coming back.”