CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Serving in Afghanistan usually means being away from family for several months. For identical twin sisters Lance Cpls. Ashley Sallee and Kimberley Gastelum, however, being deployed to Helmand province has brought them closer together.
The 22-year-old sisters, of Bakersfield, Calif., are currently serving together at Camp Leatherneck. Sallee is deployed with II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group’s Maintenance Platoon as a clerk, while Gastelum is a construction wireman with Alpha Company, 8th Communication Battalion.
“I got here in late January and Ashley got here in February,” said Gastelum. “I was glad when I heard she was coming out here. It was a nice surprise.”
Despite being with different units, the sisters find plenty of opportunities to see each other.
“We usually work out and eat lunch together,” Sallee explained. “And Saturdays we usually get together for breakfast. It’s nice being able to talk with my sister about work and stuff going on at home. It helps a lot.”
The two sisters ended up being deployed together by chance.
“I wanted to do a deployment here,” said Gastelum. “I wanted to try something different.”
“I knew my sister was going over here, but I was initially told I wouldn’t be deploying,” Sallee said. “Then out of the blue, my chain of command told me I was going to Camp Leatherneck, and I couldn’t believe it.”
Both sisters have found their work here tough, but rewarding.
“I enjoy it,” Gastelum said. “I get to crawl around in ceiling vents and dig trenches for the telephone lines. Somehow we make it fun.”
“My job has ups and downs,” Sallee added. “But for the most part, I enjoy it. I think it’s been a good experience.”
Gastelum was the first of the pair to join the military.
“I joined about three and a half years ago,” she explained. “I joined because I wanted to do something new.”
“I joined about a year later,” added Sallee. “Kim talked me into joining the Marines because initially I was thinking of going to the Air Force. I’m glad she talked me out of that.”
The two sisters have always had a close relationship.
“We were both in choir and band together when we were kids,” Sallee said. “We would even fool our grade school teachers into thinking we were the other sister.”
Even when deployed, the sisters can’t seem to avoid being mistaken for one another.
“When we first moved into our new office, Kimberley came here to install the phone wiring for us, but I mistook her for Ashley,” said 1st Sgt. Matthew J. Grither, first sergeant for Task Force Belleau Wood’s Headquarters and Service Company. “Even after she explained to me who she was I was still skeptical. I had to call over to her shop to verify who she was.”
The sisters have used their bond to overcome the hardships and deal with deployed life.
“She’s a good emotional outlet,” said Sallee. “She lets me vent about things that are troubling me. It’s like when we’re home together.”
“She’s definitely helped me deal with my homesickness,” said Gastelum. “I’m really glad that she’s here. It wouldn’t be the same without her.”