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Article Last Updated: Monday, April 26, 2004 - 11:56:50 AM EST

Two Brothers, One Commitment
Billerica natives follow similar paths back home and now as guardsmen in Persian Gulf

By DENNIS SHAUGHNESSEY, Sun Staff
BILLERICA He left his brother in the Persian Gulf, but only for a short time.

They are truly "brothers in arms."

Michael Henckler came home to Billerica on April 1 to witness his wife Kristen give birth to his first child. Micaela, a baby girl, was born April 16 at Emerson Hospital in Concord.

"I didn't even know if I would be able to come home," said Henckler, a Machinery Technician 2nd Class with the U.S. Coast Guard, who has been stationed in the Persian Gulf since December. "My commander came up to me on March 28 and told me to take the next available flight out. I couldn't have asked for anything better."

Michael's older brother, Chuck, is stationed at the same base. The brothers grew up in Billerica, both went on to become police officers and both joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves. They are serving as maintenance engineers in the Persian Gulf as part of the Coast Guard's Patrol Forces in Southwest Asia four patrol boats deployed to the region in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"This is an opportunity to be part of history, even though it's a small part," said Michael, 28.

Chuck Henckler, a 33-year-old petty officer, is also a machinery technician, although he outranks his younger brother. Chuck is an officer with the Bedford Police Department and Michael is a patrolman in Billerica.

"It was a coincidence that we were both over here," said Michael. But the brothers, who live together and serve together in the Gulf, would not have it any other way.

Chuck, who previously served in the Army with the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield, told his younger brother it feels good to serve his country for a second time in the Middle East.

The Coast Guard has deployed four 110-foot boats to the Persian Gulf to support the Navy's 5th Fleet operations to stop oil smugglers coming out of Iraq, protect oil terminals and patrol Iraq's territorial waters. This is the first time since the Vietnam War that the Coast Guard has deployed these boats to a war zone.

Guardsmen in the Gulf work at more than twice the speed as those serving along U.S. shores, Michael said. When a boat returns from a patrol, as part of the engineering team, the Henckler brothers are responsible for getting the engines and ancillary equipment ready for the next patrol, often in a matter of days.

"There really is no down time," he said. "You work until the job gets done."

Besides maintenance on the boats, they are required to stand security watch aboard the vessels as well as the shoreside facilities every few days. Their experience as police officers is a valuable asset when on duty.

Michael said things have been relatively calm where he is, although protests are a daily occurrence.

"The protesters are not armed, but you can never be too careful. You can get into the mindset that everything over here is fine, but the reality is that it's dangerous," Michael said. After the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, things got a little hot and the protests intensified.

"Our police training comes in handy and we keep ourselves in a higher state of awareness," he said, adding that their respective police departments have been supportive of their deployment overseas.

The brothers were both called up last September and have been overseas since December. Even with e-mail and phone calls, the distance and time away from family has be difficult.

Chuck has an 8-year-old son by the same name and a daughter who is 12. Young Katherine Henckler is worried about her dad, but is a member of the Sea Cadets and wants to go the Coast Guard Academy to become an officer.

It will be tough for Michael to leave his wife and new daughter to return to duty soon, but he says the time will go by quickly with the long workdays. But for their father, the time can't go by fast enough.

"Our mother passed away three years ago, and my dad misses us," he said. "He kind of feels like he lost his three best friends. Our mother always knew that as long as we were together we would look out for each other."

Coast Guardsman PA1 Matthew Belson contributed to this story. Dennis Shaughnessey's e-mail address is [email protected] .

http://www.lowellsun.com/Stories/0,1413,105~4746~2109418,00.html
 
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