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Brothers in arms: Chief knows pain, resiliency

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Teofilo Evans and Alfonzo Evans grew up with the same dynamic as most brothers do, combative, but underscored by a deeply-rooted bond rivaled by no other relationship.

"We were usual boys," Alfonzo said. "We fought like brothers, but he was always the older brother. He was the rock in my life."

The source of security Alfonzo found in his older brother was important in their childhood years of growing up in the military and frequently moving, he said.

As young men, both brothers followed in their father's footsteps and enlisted in the Air Force.

Teofilo worked as a jet propulsion mechanic on the C-5 Galaxy before retiring as a master sergeant in 2008. Today, Alfonzo is known as Chief Master Sgt. Evans and works in the 60th Medical Logistics Flight here.

In December 2010, Alfonzo volunteered for a deployment to Joint Base Balad, Iraq. When he found out Teofilo would deploy to Afghanistan as a contractor for Lockheed Martin, he felt a sense of relief that they both would share a deployment experience, albeit in different locations.

"This was a good scenario," Alfonzo said. "I would be there for him and he would be there for me while we served away from home."

According to Alfonzo, upon his arrival in Iraq, the weather was cold, which created a hiatus of attacks from insurgents. By April, both the temperature and the frequency of insurgent attacks had risen. On April 14, Alfonzo witnessed an unforgettable rocket attack.

"It was in the evening and I was getting ready to walk home," Alfonzo said. "Then the alarms went off and I hit the ground. I heard a boom that sounded far away, then a second explosion much closer that shook the building violently. The reverberations of that attack have stayed with me."

He was approximately 60 meters from where the second rocket struck the hospital in which he worked. Alfonzo and his co-workers ran to the hardened shelter and eventually made it out of the facility. The rocket had struck the clinical laboratory department and destroyed the blood bank refrigeration units.

Alfonzo quickly recovered and began his duties in medical maintenance, salvaging what he could. He worked through the night and into the morning until finally retiring at 4 a.m., only to report in for the next duty day two hours later.

The next day, Alfonzo spoke with his brother in Afghanistan and received some comforting words.

"He said everything was going to be OK," Alfonzo said. "I knew everything would be OK because my big brother said so."

Two weeks later, the rocket attack Alfonzo witnessed so closely would pale in comparison to the news he received. On April 28, he received a vague pager message for him to report into work and call his mother.

Standing in his physical training gear and surrounded by other Airmen in the common area, Alfonzo picked a phone and made the call to his mother.

"'Your brother, your brother is dead,' (she said). I could barely understand her," Alfonzo recalled. "I didn't want to believe it. I felt like I wasn't there. Sometimes, I still don't believe it."

He left his deployed location and traveled to San Antonio, Texas for his brother's funeral, where he learned some of the details of the attack that took Teofilo's life.

"The insurgents were firing from the mountains," Alfonzo said. "A lot of the time they missed. This time, it hit right in between the shelter the Lockheed Martin crew was operating out of."

Four people were in the facility. Teofilo Evans was struck in the neck and waist. One other individual died in the attack, one lost his legs in the explosion and one was blown back out of harm's way, Alfonzo said.

Alfonzo spoke at his brother's funeral and was able to visit with family members in San Antonio. Against the advice of others, the then-senior master sergeant made the decision to return to Iraq and complete the remaining 45 days of his deployment.

"When all of this happened and my brother lost his life, there was nothing being said," Alfonzo said. "There was nothing on the news. I was disappointed because I wanted my brother to be recognized. He was serving his country and got no recognition.

"I was determined to finish the last 45 days of my deployment, even though people were telling me, 'Your mom just lost one son. She doesn't need to lose another,' Alfonzo continued. “I didn't want to give (the insurgents) the satisfaction that they prevented me from accomplishing the mission. I found a lot of strength that way. In a way, it was how I wanted to say one last goodbye to my brother."

Alfonzo drew upon help and assistance from the chaplain, mental health professionals and his resiliency training to cope with the tragic deployment.

"The chaplain explained to me how the silence around my brother's death may be saving lives and that helped," he said. "If the insurgents knew that they were successful, they could arm up other insurgents and tell them exactly how to attack other forward-operating bases in the area."

In 2012, Lockheed Martin invited Alfonzo and his family to a memorial ceremony at company headquarters in Maryland. A pillar with his brother's name and the location where he died was erected in honor of his life.

Alfonzo said he will always remember his brother as a prankster, someone with a wide grin and a person always looking to help those who needed it – and his rock.

"The biggest lesson my brother taught me was to have courage," Alfonzo said. "He showed me through his actions over the years to stay composed and push through a situation."

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