CAMP SPANN, Afghanistan – [DVIDS]: These days, the heavy thing draped over Sgt. Manolito (Manny) Molinos’ shoulders is body armor.
Same with younger brother Spc. Mark Molinos, only he attaches a radio to it. There was a time when the brothers from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, Guam Army National Guard, carried the hopes of Guam on their shoulders. In some ways, they still do, but just in a far different role.
It’s been more than a decade when Manny, Mark and older brother Edgar were name stays of the Guam Weightlifting Federation. They’re one of a rare threesome of brothers to represent Guam in an international sport, having done so in the 1999 Guam-hosted South Pacific Games. A pair of brothers? All too common for Guam, but a trio of siblings involved in one sport doesn’t happen often.
“It’s pretty much Edgar who got us into this,” said Mark from his temporary Afghanistan home. “We saw he was doing pretty well in weightlifting. He got us into it.”
[ Sgt. Manolito (Manny) Molinos, left, and brother Spc. Mark Molinos of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, Guam Army National Guard, once carried the weight of Guam on their soldiers as national athletes. Now they’re serving their island and country as soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza/Released)]
Now, before talking about Mark and Manny and their current Operation Enduring Freedom mission, Edgar and his influence has to be explained.. In the 1990s he was Guam’s golden child of weightlifting, representing the island at the 1992 Summer Olympics and successfully medaling at the 1991 Papua New Guinea and 1995 Tahiti SPGs. Then Edgar led his brothers into the ’99 Games, prior to leading Manny into the 1994 and ’98 Micronesian Games.
Edgar, however, didn’t lead his brothers into the military. They did that on their own, and now Mark and Manny are part of another successful “international” Guam team.
“Weightlifting and the military are totally different worlds,” said Manny, when asked if there are similarities between what he used to do and what he does now. “You compete against athletes from other nations in the sport. But out here, on deployment, you’re competing against life.”
Manny, a team leader and electronics warfare noncommissioned officer, is on his third OEF tour and fourth mission overall. This is Mark’s first OEF mission. Task Force Guam has about 30 family pairs on this mission, but the Molinos brothers are one of the few sibling pairs in the same unit. Even more remarkably they are not only in the same unit; they are in the same platoon.
[Sgt. Manolito (Manny) Molinos, left, team leader and electronics warfare noncommissioned officer for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, Guam Army National Guard, instructs Spc. Danangelo Bicera, center, and Pvt. Christian Santos on an electronic system at Camp Spann, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza/Released]
“The advantage of that is the two brothers have themselves to fall back on when they go through tough times. That definitely gives them strength,” said 1st Lt. Peter Guerrero, Alpha Company commander. “But it’s also a double-edged sword. If something happens, you don’t just take out one from the company, you take out two.”
Mark and Manny realize that. When they first arrived in country, they avoided being on the same mission. If Mark goes out, Manny stays on the compound, and vice versa. Yet unit manpower and responsibilities have changed recently. Now they both roll on the same mission, but just in different vehicles.
“It makes it easier knowing I have family here, actual blood,” Mark said. “In fact we’ve gotten a lot closer than we’ve ever been. It’s a little hard for our parents to know we’re both here at the same place, but having blood here makes it a lot easier.”
“Our families know the dangers of being on the same unit, but they also understand the positives,” Manny explained. “There’s always going to be that older-brother feeling. I always want to check how he’s doing. Our families see the positives to this, but they also know it’s dangerous.”
Mark, 30, is a radio operator. He’s the youngest of five siblings. Manny, 37, is next youngest but already has served 11 years in the Guam Guard.
In the 1990s, the Molinos name was synonymous with Guam weightlifting. They brought more competitive success to Guam, with only the Fejerans (siblings Pete and Melissa) rivaling them. But the Molinos brothers are Guam’s last weightlifting medalists in any international competition. Manny’s 1994 Oceania/South Pacific Championships weightlifting title is still visible, as well as Manny and Edgar’s 1995 SPG medals.
After the Molinos brothers left the sport, Guam’s weightlifting program hasn’t been the same. Guam’s hasn’t won an SPG weightlifting medal in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 SPGs. Guam didn’t even send a weightlifting team to the 2011 or 2005 SPGs.
at”We tried to come back,” Manny explained. “But a lot of policies changed and a lot of other things changed the sport. That kept us from coming back.”
As the Molinos brothers faded away, they befriended a young up-and-comer named Manuel Minginfel. Originally from Yap, Minginfel spent some time lifting weights and learning the sport at the Molinos’ back yard, the brothers explained. These days, Minginfel is the South Pacific’s weightlifting golden boy, as Edgar once was.