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Julie, left, and Jennifer Kuhn, are identical twins and specialists with the 7th Signal Brigade in Mannheim, Germany. They were separated for the first time in their 21 years when they were assigned last year to different places in Iraq.
Julie, left, and Jennifer Kuhn, are identical twins and specialists with the 7th Signal Brigade in Mannheim, Germany. They were separated for the first time in their 21 years when they were assigned last year to different places in Iraq. (Nancy Montgomery / S&S)

MANNHEIM, Germany � When basic training seems like a vacation and you are looking forward to returning to Iraq, you know your life before the Army did not include a lot of coddling.

So identical twins and 7th Signal Brigade Spcs. Julie and Jennifer Kuhn just look at each other when they hear other soldiers grumble about their jobs.

Each knows what the other is thinking: �Soldiers don�t want to do stuff that�s so easy,� Julie said as Jennifer nodded her assent.

The two, who returned from Iraq in November and recently re-enlisted, were reared on a Pennsylvania farm that makes Army life seem soft. The women, with the same cleft chin, hazel eyes and blond hair pulled severely back, used to help butcher cows.

�My dad would shoot them, and we�d hang them up,� Julie said.

Their father would take out the heart and hand it to them, �and we�d put it in the kettle.�

They had to rise before 4 a.m. to milk 150 cows before school. When they got home, it was time for more chores.

�We never went anywhere,� said Julie, who�s usually the first to speak although Jennifer is older � by 12 minutes.

�We never got to go to the movies or anything. Dad would say, �Work comes first,� and then when we were done it�d be 11 at night. I look back and I say, �Man! How did we do that?��

The two started thinking they�d join the Army when they were about 13. They said that�s when the �be all that you can be� commercials were appearing on television. �I was like, �I want to be a soldier, too,�� Jennifer said.

So both were on the way to Fort Jackson, S.C., three weeks after their 2004 high school graduation. They weren�t afraid of going to war, but basic training came as a bit of a shock.

�I told my dad we got to sleep in,� Julie said.

They were in the same company in basic training, trained for the same military job in information technology and were assigned together to the 72nd Signal Battalion. The first time they were really apart was during their Iraq deployment last year.

Jennifer was sent to Camp Taji; Julie to Camp Bucca. Their separation came in Kuwait, as Jennifer reluctantly boarded a bus.

�We just both didn�t believe it,� Julie said.

�We were both crying,� Jennifer said.

But because they worked around phones and computers, they were never out of touch. And when each got a four-day pass to Qatar after being apart seven months, �It was like we were never separated,� Jennifer said.

Identical twins like the Kuhns are rare: three or four in every 1,000 deliveries. They result when one egg is fertilized by one sperm, then splits. The twins share the same DNA, and possibly the closest bond among humans.

�It was us two all the time,� Jennifer said. �We had to rely on each other.�

�We know each other�s whole life story,� Julie said. �It�s so easy to talk about anything.�

On the downside, they�ve had to adjust to continual close scrutiny of their appearance from strangers trying to tell them apart. (For the record, it�s not hard. Jennifer�s forehead is more prominent and her eyes more deeply set.)

They also have to deal with people treating them like one person. �It�s always �the twins.� It�s never Julie and Jennifer,� Jennifer said.

They found their separation to be a maturing experience.

�If we�re together and someone asks a question, I�ll always look at her (to answer). But when I was by myself, I answered for myself,� Jennifer said.

Jennifer is set to stay in Germany for three more years, while Julie is heading off to school at Fort Gordon, Ga. So they won�t be back on the farm anytime soon.

Despite the hard work, though, both said they loved the farm and missed it � especially the animals.

Jennifer had a pig named Wilbur who followed her around. Julie especially loved the baby steers for showing at county fairs, and the fact the steers� hair had to be blow-dried twice a day.

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