Identical twin sergeants keep everyone guessing in Vicenza
June 28, 2006
VICENZA, Italy — Don’t get too miffed if Sgt. Paulo Valai doesn’t return a hello while at Caserma Ederle. Sure, there’s a chance he might just dislike you, but a safer bet is that you’ve tried to greet his identical twin, Sgt. Petero Valai.
Mistaken identity has become the norm here in northern Italy. Since arriving in 2003, the Valai brothers have left friends and commanders alike wondering which Valai stands before them. Is it Paulo, a member of the 173rd Support Battalion, or his older-by-two-minutes brother, Petero, who serves with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry? When they don’t have their unit berets on, it gets even trickier.
“It happens every single day,” Paulo said recently. “I go to the [Post Exchange] and people know [Petero] from his unit. I pass by and they say, ‘You don’t say hi to me?’ I say ‘I’m the other Valai.’”
The Valai brothers, 31, joined the Army together nearly 10 years ago. The American Samoa natives have since managed to be stationed together throughout their career, moving up the Army ranks side-by-side after starting out at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“It just happened,” Petero said of their enlistment and subsequent re-enlistments. “It was the right time.”
“And the right place,” Paulo added.
Even the twins’ parents had trouble telling them apart.
“When we were growing up, my mom and dad were confused,” Petero said of their uncanny twin-ness. The young brothers would automatically answer their mother’s call, regardless of which twin she was looking for.
“I had two names, either Paulo or Petero,” Petero said.
The affable and soft-spoken brothers sometimes catch heat from their commanding officers before the confusion is settled. Paulo once got grilled for shopping while his brother was supposed to be at a formation.
“If he made a mistake, they’d yell at me,” Paulo said of their time in boot camp. “Then both of us got smoked.”
The inseparable brothers Valai also have been able to lean on each other during deployments, serving concurrently through tours in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It was a good feeling for me, especially during the war situation,” Petero said of having Paulo nearby during a stint in Iraq. “It made me feel better.”
Capt. Tavi Brunson, who oversees Paulo’s Company A, 173rd Support Battalion, said that after a year of overseeing Paulo, he can discern who is who.
“I know my Valai when I look at him,” Brunson said. “But they’re both really good dudes, outstanding soldiers.”
Despite the temptation, the Valai brothers have never pulled the patented identical twin switch that is a universal staple of formulaic situation comedies, fooling their lady friends or unit buddies.
“Everybody asks us that,” Paulo said. “But we’re not like that. We’re nice people.”
But the brothers’ decade-long trip through the Army together is about to end. Paulo and Petero, who have worked, lived and fought together in one way or another through most of their lives, will soon be apart.
Paulo is heading to Fort Drum, N.Y., later this year, a move neither brother seemed particularly excited about.
“This is going to be the first time we separate,” Petero said.