by Ashley Washburn
Front row: Matthew, Connie and Justin. Back row: Brett, Marty and Jeff.
Photo: © ROB & SAS
Long after the childhood ritual of passing hand-me-down clothing from older siblings to younger ones has ended for the Scherzberg brothers, they swap textbooks, class notes, school supplies … and memories of war.
Jeff Scherzberg of Omaha and Brett, Matthew and Justin Scherzberg,
of Papillion, are part of the second generation of Scherzbergs who have studied at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Engineering. The brothers, members of the Army Reserve, also fought in Iraq.
Their father, Marty, said his sons have always been close and pursued
similar interests. They’ve also followed in the foosteps of other Scherzbergs.
Marty’s father, Virgil, planted the seeds for his family’s profession. A pilot for a construction company, Virgil wanted his children to attend
college and believed studying civil engineering was beneficial for most engineering careers.
Marty and his oldest brother, Craig, took their father’s advice and majored in civil engineering at UNL. After graduating in 1974, Marty built power plants across the United States for 15 years before returning
to Nebraska. He is a maintenance supervisor for MidAmerican Energy in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Marty’s wife, Connie, remembers when she realized her sons would follow in their father’s footsteps. “My van started on fire on the interstate,”
Connie said. “I was outside waving my hands and screaming for help, and Brandon and Jeff were yelling, ‘Mom, get in here! We figured it out!’ Here I was, scared to death, and my kids figured it out.”
Brandon, 31, graduated from UNL in 1997 with a biology degree and plans to pursue environmental engineering. Jeff, 29, graduated from UNL in 2001 with a civil engineering degree and is a traffic engineer for Kirkham Michael in Omaha.
The youngest Scherzbergs said Jeff influenced their choice to study engineering.
Brett, 25, is a junior majoring in civil engineering and wants to work for the Army Corps of Engineers. Matthew, 23, is a sophomore in construction management in Lincoln, while his twin brother, Justin, is a sophomore in construction systems on the Omaha campus.
Jeff’s wife, Kathi, graduated from biological systems engineering and is a pharmaceutical sales representative with Merck.
Connie jokes that the family should start a firm called Scherzberg & Scherzberg & Scherzberg & Scherzberg & Scherzberg. But military duties come before career aspirations.
The Scherzbergs joined the Army Reserves to earn money for college. A family history of military involvement also factored into their decision. Marty’s father was in the Army Air Corps, and Connie’s father, Robert Todd, served in the Navy during World War II. The brothers’ uncle, Craig, is retired from the Air Force. Marty was disqualified because of medical issues.
When airplanes hit the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001, the twins watched in disbelief from a television at boot camp. “We knew then that we were in trouble,” Matthew said.
On Feb. 23, 2003, Army officials told Brett and Justin they would be deployed. Matthew volunteered to go, and the trio left for training in Fort Carson, Colo., five days later. The Scherzbergs were stationed in Iraq for 10 months. As part of the 360th Transportation Company, they hauled fuel to military vehicles. The brothers traveled the southern two-thirds of Iraq, including Baghdad, Najaf, Basrah and Karbala.
After coming home, Brett, Matthew and Justin returned to UNL for the spring semester. While studying for finals, Justin received an unexpected phone call: He and his brothers would be deployed again. He immediately called Marty at work. Marty was nervous. Insurgency had increased, and Iraq was less peaceful than during the first deployment.
“It was not a good feeling at all,” Marty said.
Connie said the family took the news hard.
“You think, ‘Goodness, we survived. But no, we have to do it a second time,’” she said. “We were blessed once, but twice?”
Jeff decided to re-enlist. The first time his brothers were deployed, Jeff said, it happened too quickly for him to go with them. But this time, he had enough notice. “I felt that since they followed me into the Army, I owed it to them,” Jeff said. “They were getting called up a second time, and I’d never been to Iraq.”
Kathi said letting Jeff go was difficult.
“The morning he left, he had to be there (the airport) by 4 a.m.,” Kathi said. “I woke up in the middle of the night and just stared at the alarm clock. I knew if I turned the alarm clock off, he couldn’t go. But I told myself, ‘It’s in God’s hands; it’s not my choice.’ So I didn’t turn it off.” This time, Jeff—the leader—followed his brothers.
The Scherzbergs left for Iraq in August 2004 and were stationed in Mosul. Unlike the first deployment, commanders gave the brothers different assignments whenever possible. Only Matthew and Justin belonged to the same platoon. Brett said being separated forced the brothers to find creative ways to communicate, such as leaving notes on each other’s beds. When an assignment took Jeff to Matthew’s base, he slept on the concrete floor beside Matthew’s bed.
“You don’t miss your family nearly as much when they’re with you,” Justin said.
However, togetherness sometimes caused fear. A roadside bomb once hit Jeff’s truck, and another bomb hit a dining hall the brothers frequented.
At home, Marty and Connie relied on faith and the evening news to bolster their spirits.
Connie said she hasn’t missed a church service since the first deployment. A resource teacher at Ralston Middle School, she assigned her students to write journals about the war. She also met with other soldiers’ mothers weekly. Despite having four sons in Iraq, Connie said she never felt angry, “just proud and scared.”
Marty watched the evening news after work, often falling asleep later in front of the TV. He looked forward to reading his sons’ e-mails every Monday morning.
Kathi said news reports upset her, so she avoided them. Instead, she remodeled the kitchen and made a scrapbook from pictures Jeff sent from Iraq.
Marty and Connie heard rumors in March that a homecoming might be imminent. On May 25, Brett, Matthew and Justin arrived at the Kansas City airport. Jeff stayed in Iraq to complete another mission. His brothers offered to stay with him, but he begged them to go home, Connie said. When Jeff learned how dangerous his new assignment was, he was grateful his brothers listened.
Jeff arrived home Aug. 2, exactly one year after he left.
Slowly, life is returning to normal. The family went on a camping trip for the first time since 2002. Brett, Matthew and Justin are back at school. Marty and Connie even welcome the chaos of their sons spending time together, at home, safe and sound.
“It was a long year,” she said.