BAUMHOLDER, Germany - Just a couple of days before B.J. and Cody Schwans entered the world on Oct. 15, 2002, born to a soldier father and former active-duty mom, the road to war was paved as Congress empowered President Bush to use force in Iraq.

Since then, there have been knocked-out teeth, first steps and first words. During the Iraq war’s five-year span, the twin brothers have learned to read and write their own names. For B.J., there’s been the pain of a broken leg. For Cody, the pain of a surgery he doesn’t even remember. They’ve felt their first grown-up teeth pierce through tender gums; they’ve felt the sting of deep disappoint.

“So much living goes on in five years,” said Gina Schwans, from the family home at the U.S. Army garrison in Baumholder.

While Cody and B.J. have climbed straight and steady into boyhood, the Iraq war has traveled a far more crooked course.

Wednesday marked the five-year anniversary of the war, which has been marred with twists and turns and milestones unforeseen. As the war now enters its sixth year, Gina and husband Mitch, a sergeant first class with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Baumholder, are preparing their children for another deployment.

A look backFor the Schwanses, the Iraq invasion coincided with their move from Fort Carson to Mannheim. On March 19, 2003, B.J. and Cody were settling into their new home, while soldiers were on the move. About that time, their baby teeth were coming in.

A month later, Saddam Hussein was on the run with his regime in ruins. Cody and B.J., on the other hand, were discovering the joy of movement as they learned to crawl.

The big moments kept on coming. In September 2003, the Schwans flew to Washington, where Cody received treatment for a growth of blood vessels on his skull.

“I don’t remember that,” said Cody as he fidgeted with his toys.

Cody received his surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which had only recently begun receiving injured Iraq War soldiers.

Last week, the boys learned about the letter “x” in kindergarten class. The X-rays of Cody’s skull were used in the lesson.

Moving onto April 2004, when the twins watched their dad get promoted to staff sergeant with the 44th Signal Battalion in Mannheim, and they participated in their first Easter egg hunt.

Meanwhile, conditions continued to deteriorate in Iraq as photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib emerged. April 2004 also marked the Muqtada al-Sadr-led Shiite uprisings.

In February 2005, Afghanistan entered the brothers’ growing vocabulary as the boys bid farewell to their father, who deployed with the 44th Signal Battalion.

“On the last deployment, by the end, they were old enough to make and hold down sentences,” Gina said.

They also were able to express their disappointment when their dad wasn’t home in time for his unit’s welcome home ceremony. Instead of being among the first to return, as had been the initial plan, Mitch was among the last.

“When he didn’t come home when he was supposed to,” Gina said, “that was one of the biggest moments. They were truly upset.”

By the end of February 2006, Mitch was back in Mannheim. As the Schwanses reunited, waves of sectarian violence were unleashed in Iraq after the Shiite “Golden Mosque” in Samarra was destroyed.

This spring, Mitch Schwans will deploy to Iraq with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. The 15-month deployment will likely mean missing the twins’ first T-Ball game, Cub Scouts meetings and another birthday.

The family has been luckier than many, though, says Gina. That first year, Mitch was around for many of the milestones.

The absences, “It’s just stuff you learn to live with,” she said.

Soon after Mitch’s return to Mannheim, the family relocated to Baumholder, where B.J. and Cody were potty-trained at last. “They were pretty stubborn about it,” said Gina, who dispatched with the diapers for good in August of 2006.

In February 2007, the inseparable twins parted for the first time for different pre-school classes.

“I cried,” Cody said, remembering the first day of class. “Then I read a book with (teacher) Ms. Schuh and I stopped.”

A month earlier, Bush had announced a surge in Iraq troop levels. War casualties eclipsed 3,000.

In April, while B.J.’s casted leg healed from a playground accident, Bush vetoed legislation seeking to impose deadlines for American withdrawal from Iraq.

Now, nearly a year after B.Js’ broken leg, Gina said she’s too busy to think about what the next five years could hold. Instead, she said her thoughts are on the present and getting her family through the next deployment.

B.J. and Cody, meanwhile, focus on fun with their friends.

“I love everybody in my class, but some people are bad,” Cody said.

author picture
John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now