KHARMA, Iraq -- Pfc. James C. Cardenas has the perfect battle buddy in Iraq. He walks just like him and talks just like him. They've got everything in common. He and his battle buddy are a mirror image of each other.
That's because the one person Cardenas can always count on in battle is his twin brother, Pfc. Aaron Cardenas. The two are assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment; James as an assistant machine gunner in 3rd Platoon's 1st Squad and Aaron doing the same duty for 3rd Platoon's 2nd Squad.
The two 20-year-olds from Monterrey Park, Calif., have literally had a life side-by side. They were born minutes apart, enlisted together and graduated boot camp together in 2003. They were also assigned to the same unit together and now serve alongside each other in Iraq.
"We didn't use the buddy program, but it just worked out that we've been together everywhere we go," Aaron said.
"It was strange at first because we've always been together, but we definitely think it's a neat experience," James explained.
"What makes it exciting is that we came out here and saw combat together," said Aaron.
James and Aaron battled back the enemy side-by-side when Marines began the cordon at Fallujah, April 5. Since then, their respective squads have not worked collectively on a mission.
Sgt. Martin Vera, 3rd Platoon's Guide, said that while Marines in general watch over each other, he's noticed the Marine twins' special bond is one of a kind.
"These two really take care of each other," said Vera, a 28-year-old from Long Beach, Calif. "It's just obvious. They motivate each other, which is good because we don't want anything to happen to either of them."
That's not to say sibling rivalry is lost on the Cardenas twins. They're only about one year into their careers, but James said it's always been a competition to out do the other. Being Marines has only made that more competitive.
"He's been getting smarter and more disciplined," James said of his brother. "I'm always trying to be better, but right now he's an expert rifle shooter, and I'm a sharpshooter."
"I can see the difference in him too," Aaron explained. "Before we hit the fleet, we were just confused all the time, but he knows what he's doing."
Aaron added he expects the competition to stiffen after they are promoted to lance corporal.
The Cardenas enjoy the fact they're sharing their Iraq deployment, but know that some day, they'll part ways.
"We're happy we're together, but eventually we'll get split up," Aaron said.
"We shared the same bunk in boot camp and SOI, we live together in the barracks, so it doesn't matter anymore," James joked. "I'm tired of him already."