By Ryan Cornell
As identical twin brothers born three minutes apart, Justin and Jason Ruckman, 18, are used to sharing the same interests and activities. So when one of them expressed interest in serving in the Marine Corps, it was only natural for the other to follow along. The two brothers from Woodstock spent the past three months enduring Marines boot camp in the same platoon.
Justin Ruckman has a mole just right of his chin and a scar on his head. Jason Ruckman speaks in a deeper voice. Other than that, the two twins are virtually identical. They said it takes about three months of getting to know them before their friends are able to tell them apart.
The Ruckmans graduated from Central High School in June, where they once switched classes for a day, and were involved in cross country, lacrosse, wrestling and football. The brothers had always wanted to join the military; it was almost like a family tradition.
Their father had served in the Army for two terms. Their cousin went into the Air Force. And their grandfather and great-grandfather had also served in the military. But none of them had ever been Marines, said their mother, Amy Ruckman, so they had to "one-up" them.
"They actually made the comment to me that they were going to go in the military and wanted the hardest there was to offer," she said. "I think they're crazy."
And what a challenge it's been. In addition to the mental head-games played by their drill instructors -- the twins were dubbed "Thing One" and "Thing Two" -- and time away from home, Justin and Jason Ruckman said the toughest obstacle during the 13-week boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., came during "The Crucible."
"It's three days of four-hour sleep, sand all over you, your cammies are soaked through with sweat to the point where your feet blister and my feet are like leather now from it," Jason Ruckman said. "It was the hardest thing I've done in my life."
"And the last day you march back, it's like a nine-mile march back to the place where you receive your EGA [Eagle, Globe and Anchor]," Justin Ruckman said.
Out of the 97 recruits who entered boot camp, Jason Ruckman said there were 12 who dropped out. He said the youngest recruit was 17 and the oldest was 27.
Even though they were in the same platoon, he said they kept themselves separated on opposite sides of the squad bay so they wouldn't be targeted. It wasn't long before they were found out.
Jason Ruckman recalled the time one of their drill instructors realized they were twins and called them out. He said the instructor had told them: "From now on, when I yell at him, you both show up. When I get after him, I get after you. When he messes up, you mess up. You guys are going to do everything together."
Overall, their similarities came as an advantage.
"We knew how to work with each other," Jason Ruckman said. "When Justin gets angry, I know how to calm him down or motivate him. So when another recruit would get totally upset or freak out, I knew how to handle it."
It's not difficult to guess what they missed most while at camp: the home-cooked meals, the coffee -- Justin Ruckman, an avid coffee drinker, said there was only yellow and red Gatorade, white and chocolate milk and water during chow time -- and going to the bathroom without requesting permission to "hit the head." But one overlooked luxury, Jason Ruckman explained, was carpet.
"Because everything is pavement and even the squad bay is hard floor, I came back to the house and got out of my shoes and I felt carpet and I melted to the ground," he said.
While at home, they said it was a strange feeling to walk into a restaurant with their service uniforms on and have everyone staring at them.
"You're used to being told that you're nothing," Justin Ruckman said. "And you go home and everyone is thanking you for your service. That's a really hard concept to get used to."
Justin and Jason Ruckman graduated from boot camp on Oct. 25 and left on Sunday for their fourth phase, Marine Combat Training, at Camp Geiger, part of North Carolina's Camp Lejeune. There, the two said they will be doing more of the fun parts that were left out of boot camp, including launching grenades, shooting machine guns and tracer rounds and taking 10-km and 15-km hikes with 120-pound backpacks.
Despite their shared interests, the twins see themselves heading into slightly different fields. Jason Ruckman wants to work in aviation mechanics, where he would be repairing and maintaining helicopters, jets and bombers. Justin Ruckman said he wants to work in aviation electronics, fixing wiring and other electrical equipment.
"We've been through everything together so it's weird to think about being apart or him not being there," Justin Ruckman said. "People always ask us all the time what it's like being a twin. Not being a twin would be so crazy for me."
Amy Ruckman said she knows her sons can get through anything.
"I think the military has a lot to offer for the right person," she said. "And I think they're definitely going to add to the military. I have every confidence that they'll make it through every challenge they're given."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org