NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, - "Congratulations on your promotion, sir," the soldier said as he approached an open truck window and greeted a face he recognized. The captain in the truck had been hearing a lot of that in the 48 hours since his arrival to Bagram Airfield.
Army Capt. John Paluczak had scheduled a trip from Forward Operating Base Finley-Shields -- where he serves as agricultural officer in charge for the Missouri National Guard's agribusiness development team in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar province -- to see his twin brother.
"Thanks," he said to the soldier, taking the remark in stride. The soldier continued to talk about his unit's upcoming redeployment back to the United States.
"Well, that would be good, if I was going home," the captain said in response to a comment about the anticipated return. The soldier stumbled, but kept on going. He seemed a bit confused as he tried to work out a reason that one of them wouldn't be leaving the country.
At that point, Paluczak gave the guy a bit of slack. "I think you are talking about my twin brother, 1st Lt. [Michael] Paluczak," he said with a chuckle.
"I would have kept going, but we had someplace to be," he said to the truck's driver, Army Capt. Charlie Ledgerwood, Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander, 203rd Engineer Battalion, and to the passenger in the truck with him, who were playing along with the charade. "We aren't identical, but you won't be able to tell the difference."
His brother, assigned to the Missouri National Guard's 203rd Engineer Battalion, was expected to travel through Bagram Airfield from Forward Operating Base Sharana with his battalion as part of his redeployment home. But he was still at Sharana when Capt. Paluczak arrived at Bagram. While the captain waited, everyone he met who knew his brother assumed he was the lieutenant. He and Ledgerwood had fun with the mistaken identity that inevitably occurred.
"It was a lot of fun playing with people," he said. "I was waiting at the [administrative and logistical operations center], and I've known Captain Ledgerwood forever. So we just played along with it. I don't know how many times I was congratulated on my promotion."
When Lieutenant Paluczak finally arrived, it was nearly time for the captain to leave. So the twins stayed up until 3:30 a.m. talking about their experiences and catching up, knowing that it would be another six months before they would see each other again.
As it turned out, Captain Paluczak's flight was cancelled, and he had to wait a couple of days before he could return to Finley-Shields on a space-available flight.
"The last time I saw him was in March when I was home on leave," the lieutenant said, "and if I didn't see him now, it would be February before he comes home on leave. We just hung out. We went to eat and went to the shops. We swapped stories about what we were doing. We, the battalion, had a route-clearance mission in his area."
The Paluczaks enlisted together under the Buddy Program into the Missouri National Guard with the 128th Field Artillery in Kirksville, Mo., in February 2001. They attended different Missouri colleges -- John went to Webster University in St. Louis and Michael attended Truman State in Kirksville -- but both joined ROTC and were commissioned with the Missouri National Guard.
Captain Paluczak said it was good to see his brother.
"It was very nice of my command staff to let that happen," he said. "He didn't get in until [midnight], and we stayed up until 3:30 in the morning talking. I lucked out and my flight was cancelled. It was also good to see others from the 203rd Engineer Battalion that I knew."
Lieutenant Paluczak agreed the reunion was nice, but added he's ready to get home.
"It was awesome seeing John," he said. "I'm looking forward to going home and seeing my family."