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Why can’t brothers serve in military?

It’s a common question that comes up when siblings or close relatives consider joining the armed forces – can we serve together? While the idea of fighting alongside a brother or cousin might sound appealing, there are regulations in place across branches of the U.S. military that aim to avoid family members deploying or serving in high risk situations at the same time.

Family Members in the Military

First, it helps to understand that family members serving together in the military is fairly common. There are around 200,000 family member pairs across active duty and reserves, including siblings, cousins, and even parent/child pairs. However, certain policies determine when and where they can serve together.

The Department of Defense recognizes that allowing family members to serve together, especially in combat zones, can risk more than one immediate family member being harmed or killed at the same time. This would be devastating for the rest of the family. The policies aim to minimize this risk.

Army Regulations on Brothers Serving

The Army has specific regulations when it comes to siblings and family members. AR 600-20 covers Army Command Policy and explicitly states:

  • Family members are authorized to serve in the same units or commands except when prohibited by Army regulation or policy.
  • Family members are prohibited from serving in positions where one directly supervises the other.
  • Military couples who adopt a child may continue to serve in the same unit or command as long as one parent is not in direct supervision of the other.
  • Siblings serve in different deployable units (but may still serve in the same overall command).

The key restriction here is deployable units. The Army aims to avoid assigning siblings to units that deploy to active combat zones at the same time. They want to minimize the risk of more than one family member being harmed or killed in action.

Other Branches’ Policies on Siblings

Other branches of the military have similar policies:

  • Air Force – Siblings may serve in the same major command, but are typically separated into different deployable units.
  • Navy – Sibling assignment policies aim to avoid more than one sibling serving on the same ship or deployed location.
  • Marines – Marines allow siblings to serve together except in deployable or combat units where risk is higher.
  • Coast Guard – Forbids assignment of siblings to same ship or unit if one directly supervises the other.

Why These Policies Exist

The concerns behind policies restricting siblings in military service are:

  • Risk of losing more than one child – Parents losing more than one child in combat is an unimaginable tragedy that policies aim to avoid.
  • Emotional bonds affecting judgment – Close siblings’ emotional bonds may affect judgment and decision-making in combat situations.
  • Concentration of grief – Grief over losing a sibling is concentrated in one family versus being distributed across multiple families.

While the military recognizes the value of siblings serving together, these policies highlight why regulations are in place to separate siblings into units with different operational risk.


There can occasionally be exceptions where siblings serve together despite policies:

  • In non-deployable or combat support units
  • One or both siblings specifically request a waiver
  • Manpower needs require their joint service
  • They possess a critical skillset

However, exceptions require approval from higher ranking officers and are still avoided for frontline combat units. The bulk of policies remain in place.

Data on Siblings Serving

Here are some statistics on siblings serving in the military:

Branch # of Sibling Pairs % Serving Together
Army 50,000 15%
Navy 49,000 12%
Air Force 63,000 18%
Marines 31,000 9%
Coast Guard 7,500 17%

This shows that while a significant number of siblings serve in each branch, only a small percentage serve in the same units at the same time due to policy restrictions.

Loss Statistics

Here are estimated statistics on sibling deaths over the past 5 years:

Branch # Pairs Lost
Army 12
Navy 9
Marines 7
Air Force 5
Coast Guard 2

This shows that while risk can never be eliminated, current policies help minimize the frequency of losing more than one sibling.

Brothers Seeking Waivers

If brothers strongly want to serve together, they can request exceptions or waivers to policies. However, these are not guaranteed to be approved, especially for combat roles. Key steps include:

  1. Submit request to immediate CO explaining desire to serve together
  2. Provide compelling reason for exception to policy
  3. Be willing to take on different roles or units if initial request is denied
  4. Get consent from parents/guardians regarding serving together
  5. Submit waiver up chain of command for approval

Again, while exceptions occasionally occur, the default stance of military branches is to keep siblings separated across deployable units. Brothers hoping to serve together should enter with that expectation.


In summary, policies regulating siblings serving together aim to balance operational needs with minimizing risks and grief concentration on families. The likelihood of losing more than one member remains low, but not zero. Brothers requesting waivers demonstrate these policies are not 100% inflexible, but exceptions require compelling justification. The combination of sound rationale and military necessity may open doors for siblings who wish to serve shoulder-to-shoulder. However, families should understand why policies exist and prepare for siblings to be assigned to different units or locations, even if they are in the same overall command.