AL ASAD, Iraq -- Many Americans own businesses, like a grocery store or a car wash, that they wish to keep in the family and have their children follow along, well one family’s tradition is not business, its serving their country.
The Chestnuts, who have made their mark with 17 family members who have served in the military, currently have nine relatives who are active duty Marines.
“Almost everyone in my generation, at one point, has served in the Marine Corps or the Army,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Chestnut, an information systems and computers/tactical electronic reconnaissance process evaluation system technician for Marine Tactical Electronic Squadron 1. “Even though we may have chosen different paths, one thing we have in common is our dedication to (the military).”
Kevin and his cousin Sgt. Russell Chestnut, a supply chief for 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, are currently serving their second deployment together here.
“It’s a good feeling to have your cousin out here,” said Russell a native of Sumter, S.C. “Knowing that I have somebody else while I am out here is good, just knowing that family is still around.”
The Chestnuts currently have a chief warrant officer 2, a sergeant major, a gunnery sergeant, two staff sergeants and four sergeants on active duty.
“I think that we accomplish a lot just by being in the military and being around each other. It’s a tight bond,” said Kevin, a native of Sumter, S.C. “No matter where we go people ask ‘Do you know this Chestnut, do you know that Chestnut?’ I always have to say, ‘Yeah, which one?’”
The Chestnuts believe that their family is closer because of their service, but their tight bond is a product of their upbringing.
“Russell and Kevin are like my younger brothers,” said Gunnery Sgt. Marcus A. Chestnut, a Drill Master at Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Va., and their older cousin. “We are so close because that is the way we grew up. (The older cousins and I) use to toughen them up to be like us.”
Although the Chestnut family is close, the various deployments keep reunions to a minimum.
“When the war first kicked off the majority of our family was deployed,” said Kevin. “For Russell and I, this is our second time deploying to the same place.”
The close bond that the Chestnuts share does not only benefit the family, but also extends to their service in the Corps.
“(Sgt. Maj. Chestnut) is there for that extra knowledge, he has been through everything and I can go to him,” explained Kevin. “He has an open door policy for the Marine Corps and the family. But we don’t want to abuse the family privileges because we want to learn for ourselves. At the same time we look out for each other. We have that senior rank, who knows something that the other doesn’t know, looking out to help. Every little bit helps.”
Although the Chestnuts are always trying to help each other with family or Marine Corps issues, there is still a little bit of competition amongst them.
“We all go for the same goals so we have a little bit of competition, we all pick at each other,” said Kevin. “But at the same time we look out for each other.”
From the senior to the junior ranks, having so many Marines in the family has proved beneficial to the Chestnuts.
“I want to thank all my nephews and my niece (CWO2 Folanda Spencer) for keeping me on my toes,” said Sgt. Maj. Melvin O. Chestnut, the Marine Air Control Group 38 sergeant major. “I'm not sure if I would have become the person I am today if not for them keeping their eyes on me and using me as their example in so many things.”
The family’s military history started in the 1940’s, when Kevin and Russell’s grandfather, Joseph Chestnut Sr., served the Army in World War II.
“He started a trend and we followed along,” said Russell. “It is a good feeling. I think he paved the way for us.”
The service and dedication that Joseph showed is mirrored by his children on down.
“I wanted to live up to everything he has done,” said Melvin, Joseph’s son. “He died in 1996, but I still live everyday to prove myself to him.”
For many of the family members, Joseph’s memory is a source of inspiration that motivates them throughout tough times.
“My grandfather died the day I got promoted to corporal; it was the second worst day of my life,” said Marcus. “I really looked up to him and got a lot of advice from him. He showed me that you have to work hard and bust your butt to take care of your family. Like him, I have a large family, seven kids and it is not easy. I love that man to death. When I’m down and depressed about work or home I sit and think who I am and who I represent: ‘I'm Marcus A. Chestnut the grandson of Joseph and Mable Chestnut Sr., you can’t bring me down.’”
Although the Chestnuts serve the Corps for multiple reasons, carrying on their family’s tradition is a driving factor.
“I joined the Marine Corps because of family tradition, bond of being with another family besides the Chestnut family, seeing things and being part of a bigger puzzle,” said Kevin, who enlisted in 1998. “We are just trying to carry on the family name, continue what my grandfather started many years before my time. Hopefully he is looking down at us and he is proud of us.”
With some of the senior members of the family retiring or getting out the family’s immediate presence in the Marine Corps is uncertain, but they are sure that their legacy will remain alive.
“Our family didn't do this to make history,” said Sgt. Isaiah Montgomery, a motor transport driver at Marine Corps Security Forces Battalion, Norfolk, Va. “But since we have, I know that we have put an impact on the Marine Corps as a whole. I can’t go anywhere without meeting someone that one of them has had an impact on.”