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Iraq Transition

Idaho's real-life brothers in arms

Four 'weekend warrior' siblings serve in Iraq

By Alex Quade

After a four-month separation, Evan, Jeff, Eric and Greg Pruett, from left, met in Kirkuk in April.

(CNN) -- As the war in Iraq stretches on, American military families feel a mixture of pride and anxiety that comes with having a loved one in a combat zone. The family of Leon and Tammy Pruett knows those feelings four times over.

The Pruetts have four sons serving in combat in Iraq. Eric, Evan, Greg and Jeff are completing an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq with the Army National Guard. Leon and the couple's fifth son, Eren, are just back from Iraq, and daughter Emily would have gone but had not completed her training when her brothers shipped out.

Why would one family be willing to risk so much for the war in Iraq? The Pruetts feel it is their duty to serve, that other people in the world have a right to some of the freedoms and privileges Americans have. And, as Tammy Pruett says, "If not my sons, then whose?"

Far from home

The four brothers are "'weekend warriors" who left their jobs and families in Idaho to fight a war far removed from their rural hometown.

Second Lt. Eric Pruett, 26, is a tank platoon commander in charge of 23 soldiers and the training of Iraqi police. In civilian life, Eric is an assistant manager at a Wal-Mart.

Spc. Evan Pruett, 23, fixes the vehicles his brothers and their units use for missions, and repairs those damaged by makeshift bombs. Back home, he is a bartender and first-time father.

Spc. Greg Pruett, also 23, is a missionary-turned-communications expert currently living at the former home of Ali Hassan al-Majid -- known as "Chemical Ali" for allegedly gassing Kurdish villagers in late 1980s and early 1990s.

Greg hears everything going on in the field from the radios and worries about his brothers on patrols. When he hears about bad things happening, he says, he just hopes and prays that they are all right.

Spc. Jeff Pruett, 20, hunts for insurgents and weapons and trains new Iraqi forces. Back home, he is a grocery store clerk.

During a house-to-house search in Kirkuk, he acknowledges the dangers that the brothers face. "The odds are a lot higher, and what's the chances of us all making it out alive and getting back home?"

Meeting up in Kirkuk

Indeed, the stakes are high and yet the brothers draw strength from serving together, keeping up with what happens with each others' units and being able to relate to circumstances far removed from life in Idaho.

Reunited for this report in Kirkuk four months after deploying, you could see relief spreading across their faces just to see each other. "It's one thing to hear it by e-mail, it's another thing to see that they're OK, " Greg says.

Reassured that everyone is OK, the four fall quickly into brotherly teasing. They talk about things soldiers in every war talk about: Mom, home, wives and babies. And they talk about food: what they miss (homemade beef jerky) and what they are getting in care packages (lots of junk food to supplement their military rations). Greg laments that his grandfather sent him a healthy can of stew in the mail instead of candy.

The brothers also compare the threats they've dealt with: makeshift bombs, rocket and mortar attacks and coming under fire. A female soldier in Evan's unit was killed by an improvised bomb in the last few weeks.

All say they do not tell family back home everything that they've been through, the dangers they face daily, because they don't want to worry them more.

Waiting for word

How does their mother deal with this? It's her job to "put on a happy face and just get through the day," she says. She's very proud of her sons and what they are doing in Iraq, and she prays for them every day. And now, she says, her husband Leon finally knows what it's like to be waiting at home for "the boys to come home."

Leon says waiting on the home front is harder than being deployed and that he'd switch places with his sons if he could.

Not knowing where their sons are and what they are going through is the toughest. The parents worry when they see the reports of insurgent violence on the upswing in Iraq, especially since members of the Pruett brothers' 116th Brigade Combat Team have been killed over there.

When the phone rings, the Pruetts worry that it might be bad news from the front lines. While taping a part of this report, they received a phone call that youngest son Jeff was in a field hospital with food poisoning. It's a heart-stopping moment knowing that a phone call from Iraq might have held worse news.

Though they have been lucky so far, Tammy and Leon want to thank the families of all service members killed in Iraq to tell them that "they paid the ultimate sacrifice so freedom is a reality."

Eric, Jeff, Evan and Greg Pruett still have six months to go on in Iraq. They've missed major family milestones since they've been gone: weddings and the birth of a first child. And they'll miss more before their scheduled return in January. Though the Pruetts feel it four times over, their story is just one of nearly 140,000 American families with loved ones serving in Iraq.

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