By Sfc. Whitney Hughes, Joe Lacdan, and Katie LangeApril 6, 2018
WASHINGTON -- National Siblings' Day, which falls on April 10th, is a chance for brothers and sisters all across the country to celebrate their special bond.
For that small but special group of siblings who also serve in the Army together, International Siblings' Day provides an opportunity to celebrate being siblings twice over, through both family and the military.
When Massachusetts Army National Guard Maj. Molly Alesch spoke at her promotion ceremony, she looked over the audience to her father, a U.S. Army veteran. But her father wasn't the only family member present with military service. Molly's two sisters, Army Maj. Jill Finkel and Army Spc. Kristen Alesch, were also present to celebrate their sister's promotion.
"It's an honor to me to have the three of them serve," said their father Thomas Alesch. "It gives me a sense of pride."
The first of his daughters to join the service was his eldest daughter Jill. "I needed help from somewhere, I was without a lot of resources, and it turned out that the Army was the place for me," said Jill. She found that help after enlisting in the Iowa National Guard, then went on to earn her law degree from Drake University, and now works full-time as a federally recognized Judge Advocate General Officer in the Iowa Guard's Active Guard Reserve program.
It was while both older sisters were attending Drake University that Molly considered joining the military. She saw Jill wearing the uniform and paying her own way through college, which inspired her to join the National Guard's Simultaneous Membership Program, which allowed her to be a member of the Iowa National Guard while completing her bachelor's degree.
Both Jill and Molly have deployment experience, with Jill deploying to Afghanistan in 2010-2011 and Molly to Iraq in 2005-2006.
Kristen, being a decade younger, hasn't deployed yet. But Jill is confident that it won't be an issue for the youngest of these sisters in service.
"It's a little bit blown out of proportion, with women in the military, can they be in war can they not?… It's a person issue, not a gender issue," Jill said. "While I enjoy the surprise, it really shouldn't be surprising that three strong women want to serve their country."
A ONE, TWO, THREE PUNCH AT WEST POINT
Boxing started as a hobby, but soon grew into a family affair for three siblings at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Egbezien "E.B." Obiomon came to West Point with hopes to make an impact for the Black Knights on the gridiron. However, his athletic plans soon changed after taking West Point's mandatory boxing class in the spring of his freshman year.
Obiomon found that he enjoyed the intense competition of the sport, and joined the boxing club sophomore year. In less than a year of training, Obiomon, who had never competed as a boxer, won the National Collegiate Boxing Association title in the in the 185-pound weight division during his sophomore season.
Now a senior who will be an infantry officer upon graduation in May, E.B. shares his love of the sport with his younger sisters, both of whom are also West Point Cadets. Sister Ejakhianaghe is a junior at the school, while Ebakoliane is a sophomore.
Competing for the West Point women's team last spring, Ejakhianaghe won the 2017 National Championship in the 165-pound weight division, while Ebakoliane finished second at 156 pounds in her first season competing.
And their rise to the top of the sport has surprised many -- including the Obiomons. The siblings said the sport has brought them closer together.
"Just yesterday I was in there sparring with them," E.B. said. "It's special to us. It's kind of turned into a family thing. It's pretty special, the fact that we all can share the same experience. Not too many people get that opportunity."
"Obviously my family is very proud," Ejakhianaghe said. "(Boxing) helps with our sibling bond. We see each other every day. We're around together for about two hours. It helps us become more in sync. I feel like we're more tight-knit."
It all began with the boxing course that now all West Point cadets must take to graduate. Beginning with the Class of 2020, female students must also complete the class. USMA boxing coach Ray Barone said the program helps reflect the changing needs of the Army, as more female Soldiers are integrated into combat roles such as infantry and armor.
"The thing that attracted me most to the sport is that it will prepare me best to be an infantry officer," E.B. said. "I am always looking at what is going to help me become a better combat leader."
E.B. also uses his skills and experience to help train his younger sisters, working with them on footwork and punching mechanics.
"Whenever we were coming up, my parents instilled in us the importance of sticking together," Ebakoliane said. "So when we came here it just followed ... My sister won nationals last year because of how my brother instructed -- the way that he taught her. He taught her fundamentals and allowed her to reach the level she is. He's done the same thing for me. The cohesion makes it a lot easier."
Matthew and Justin Scherzberg are in Afghanistan on six-month voluntary deployments. The 35-year-old identical twins from Nebraska are civil engineers, and they've been following a pretty similar path most of their lives.
First, there was the Army Reserve. Both joined to follow in their older brothers' footsteps, and to help with higher education costs. They each spent eight years in the service, deploying together to Iraq twice.
In between, there was college. Both went to the University of Nebraska (albeit to different campuses), where they earned construction management degrees. They also love to golf, swim, ski and fish -- they've even run six marathons together. So one would think there would be some sibling rivalry going on, right? Nope. It's more like they're good at motivating each other's competitive sides.
"If someone has a better marathon time, the other will try to outdo it on the next one," Justin said. "But it's all in good nature."
Now, they work together as civilian employees at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Both are construction reps, meaning they focus on quality assurance, safety and contract compliance.
Both volunteered for the Afghanistan tour "to see what it was like," and it's turned out to be quite a bit different from their Reserve deployments. While the construction projects are the same, the countries and the jobs are not.
"[The Reserve job] repeats itself over and over," Matt said. "Here, you see a higher level" that has given each brother a sense of purpose.
"On the military side, you do your job. But it's good to see it from this side, where you're helping to rebuild a country," Justin said.
"The local nationals or the Afghans that I met are happy that we're here and like what we're doing," Matt said.
The pair has largely followed in their families' footsteps. Aside from their veteran brothers, their dad, uncle and one brother are also civil engineers -- so it was pretty much in their blood to do what they're doing. One can only wonder what their next adventure together will bring.
(Editor's note: This article is a compilation of three separate articles, whose individual links are below -- "National Guard sisters in service," by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes; "Championship aspirations bring West Point siblings together in boxing ring," by Joe Lacdan; and "From military to civil service deployments, these Army brothers stick together," by Katie Lange.)