FORT LEE, Va. – Separation can wait, at least for now.
Team Gregory – 18-year-old identical twins Jaiden P. and Teagen N. Gregory – braced themselves to part ways as they headed into the Army National Guard earlier this year. They thought the move would jumpstart their entries into adulthood – a gentle nudge toward pursuing individual interests after a childhood of twin closeness.
Unexpectedly, what was supposed to happen did not. By happenstance, the two privates spent 20 weeks shouting distance from one another during basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at the Ordnance School at Fort Lee.
At each stage of initial training, the close-knit pair steeled themselves for what they thought would be a break-up — and rejoiced each time they were afforded another opportunity to be together. It was proof Gregory love runs deep.
“Honestly, she is one of the biggest parts – if not the biggest – part of my world,” said Teagen of her sister. “She has always been beside me every step of the way. Even with this journey, she’s been right there.”
Separation seems foreign to the Gregory twins. They have always had a strong connection and have never been away from each other, said Jaiden, taller by half an inch and older by 10 minutes.
“I actually never really imagined a future where I wasn’t directly next to her,” she said.
The Gregorys can be described as a team with individual traits – Teagen is extroverted while Jaiden is reserved – and the two balance each other in complementary ways.
“I think we’ve grown up so synchronized we can finish each other’s sentence,” said Jaiden. “For me personally, I know I’ve always struggled to speak or look directly at people, so I used her to finish my sentences at times.”
The eldest of five children, the Gregory twins grew up in a single-parent household in the Pittsburgh suburb of Homestead, Pennsylvania. They have been caretakers for their younger siblings and still see themselves in that light. That was especially the case during the pandemic.
“Our mom needed to go back to work, and someone needed to take care of the baby,” said Teagen, “so, we dropped out.”
Of high school, that is. To the former junior ROTC students, nothing was more important than family, and the sacrifice seemed small compared to what their mother was up against.
“We would take our baby sister off of our mother’s hands at night after she worked a 12-hour shift,” said Jaiden.
The “baby,” now a toddler, and the other youngsters still aren’t content with commercial care providers. And the twins are not ready to move on as they embrace the obligation of supporting their mother.
“That’s why we’re National Guard,” said Jaiden, “Because I feel like they’re not ready to let us go, and we’re not ready to leave them.”
The National Guard offers flexibility for those not ready for full active-duty service commitments. After basic combat and advanced individual training, the state-based military force generally requires Soldiers to report for duty one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. Guard units are subject to activation at any time.
Team Gregory liked what the National Guard offered, accommodating the time needed to address family issues and sort out career goals. When they decided to join, their recruiter helped them through the process of earning general education diplomas and advised them about job training and college tuition assistance.
“It was the opportunity to experience (different things) and education, really,” said Jaiden, who with her sister, trained as a 91B wheeled vehicle mechanic. “I wasn’t too sure what to do with myself, so I put myself in the Army to push me into the right direction.”
“It gave me opportunities I probably wouldn’t have come across had I not joined,” added Teagen.
The Gregory twins graduated as mechanics in early October. They will be assigned to Bravo Company, 128th Brigade Support Battalion, Pennsylvania National Guard, based in Pittsburgh.
Though the twins skated through initial training in the company of each other, future military training or life events may separate them.
“Before coming here, I kind of adjusted myself to the thought of, ‘Yeah, I’m going to separate, and that’s going to be OK,‘ ” said Teagen with a slightly trembling voice. “I know that we will always keep in touch if we do.”
Said Jaiden, “Even when we separate, we will be able to pick up on the conversation when we see each other again.”