Frederick and Derick Aidoo are mirror images of one another.
They were born in Chicago, grew up in Africa and graduated from Iowa State University.
They joined the National Guard together and moved to Arizona after falling in love with the state. Recently, each bought new homes a block apart in a subdivision in fast-growing Gilbert. They each drive 2002 GMC Sierras, only Derick's is green and Frederick's is black.
Now it's come to this: The 29-year-old identical twins are heading to Iraq next week for a tour of duty that could last up to 545 days. "It's still sinking in," Derick said. "But I'm ready to have that experience."
The brothers are supply sergeants in the Army National Guard's 3666th Maintenance Company in Phoenix. They gladly admit they've been virtually inseparable since birth, something they attribute to choice and fate.
"No matter what, our decisions always end up being the same," Derick said. "I guess it's because we're very close."
They want things to stay that way. Above all, the brothers said they want to remain together during their time in Iraq.
"My only fear would be splitting us up over there and not knowing what's going on with each other," Frederick said.
As the United States settles in for an extended occupation of Iraq, National Guard units in Arizona and around the country are mobilizing for duty. The effort is the second major rotation for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the name given to U.S. operations in Iraq and Kuwait, said Maj. Eileen Bienz, spokeswoman for the state National Guard.
The Aidoos are among more than 450 National Guard personnel statewide who are leaving Dec. 12 for duty in Iraq, Bienz said.
Their mother, Gladys Larbi of Chicago, has worse fears. In a phone interview Thursday, Larbi said the idea of two of her three sons going to a war zone is hard to accept. Her other son, Edmund, 24, lives in Alabama and isn't in the military.
"I feel horrible," Larbi said. "If I said I was happy about it I'd be lying. I can't think right. I can't eat."
She said she has a hard time watching the news because it seems like every day there is another story about the deaths of more American soldiers.
"So many things are going on every day — killings, shootings," she said. "They don't know where their enemies are."
Frederick is a project manager with the Phoenix architectural firm Searer Robbins & Stephens. Derick is a project manager for Colton Constructors in Tempe.
Six months after being born in Chicago, the brothers were sent to live with an aunt and grandparents in Ghana, Africa, where they remained until they were 17.
Upon returning to the United States, the brothers enrolled in a vocational high school in Chicago and studied architecture, graduated, and went on to earn degrees from Iowa State University. Frederick's degree is in architecture. Derick's passion was architecture, too, but he chose a degree in construction engineering so they could go into business. The plan is to start a firm someday after getting experience in their fields, Derick said.
The brothers joined the Army National Guard on the same day in April 1995, each for the experience and education. They went through boot camp together, sharing a room.
Both moved to Arizona about four years ago because they developed a strong liking for the state during road trips to visit friends in Blythe, Calif., Derick explained.
About 770 men and women in the state Army National Guard are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bienz said. No members of the state National Guard have been killed in the operations in Iraq, but a few have been injured, Bienz said.
Derick said he knows his mom is having a hard time, and said he understands why she would be scared about her twins going to Iraq. However, he's not focusing on the danger, he said.
"What I'm thinking about now is going out there, getting it over with, and coming back," he said.