NORFOLK, Va. — Throughout their Navy careers, twin brothers Nathaniel and Nathan Jiggetts have navigated military life side by side. They enlisted together almost 25 years ago, served together aboard three ships and have climbed the ranks in unison.
Earlier this month, the 43-year-old sailors advanced to master chief petty officer, the Navy's highest enlisted rank.
Both have fed thousands of fellow sailors during their careers as culinary specialists. Nathaniel Jiggetts serves on the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship Wasp, while his fraternal twin is stationed aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, also based in Norfolk.
In 1989, the Jiggetts brothers, still sweaty from a pickup game of basketball, joined the Navy. On a whim, five of the players walked into a recruitment center in South Hill and enlisted the same day.
Nathan Jiggetts never imagined he and his brother would rise to master chief petty officer — let alone at the same time. Only one percent of senior chief culinary specialists advance to master chief petty officer.
"I thought I'd serve for a few years," he said. "It's a culture shock the first year, and everyone wants to get out at first. But I had a chief who kept saying, 'You're going to be a master.' "
Before enlisting, they both worked as dietary aides at a hospital, which made it a "natural progression" to work as culinary specialists in the Navy.
On the Truman, culinary specialists pump out as many as 15,000 meals a day and are responsible for feeding every sailor on the ship.
As senior enlisted sailors, they do less cooking these days and more management and logistics.
"It's a really diverse job," Nathan Jiggetts said. "Coming into work, it might be dealing with personnel issues or loading ships. You have to have a broad perspective."
From leading a large group of culinary specialists to preparing meals for entire ships, the brothers find ways to break up the monotony together. They spend hours baking and decorating cakes for galas and change-of-command ceremonies, and they take pride in mentoring up-and-coming culinary specialists.
"Don't tell someone to do something that you haven't done before," Nathaniel Jiggetts said.
Their goal every day is to come to work and lead by example.
"You know, when we're talking with junior sailors, you have to show them there is a light at the end of the tunnel," Nathan Jiggetts said. "If they stay focused and strive for what they want, they can get it."
He said family members in the military often go their separate ways during service. But the Jiggettses knew they wanted to serve together. They were both assigned to the Truman from 2000 to 2003, and they advanced to senior chief petty officer in 2008.
Together, they've traveled the world, visiting England and Dubai on port calls.
While they don't currently serve on the same ship, the brothers talk to each other at least three times a day and often call on each other for advice on their new rank.
Occasionally, they revert to their much-younger selves.
While whitewater rafting in Turkey, the brothers flipped their raft upside down and plunged into rushing water. As they struggled to get back into the raft, Nathaniel Jiggetts grabbed his twin's head and pushed it under. "The whole thing was hilarious," he said. "It's been a blessing. It hasn't been hard to keep us together."