Identical twins usually share more in common than just looks. Often, they share a deep-rooted emotional bond many non-twin siblings do not. For NiCole Aguilar and Amanda Ryker, these identical twin sisters also share near-identical life experiences. Students at Central Texas College (CTC) at Fort Riley, KS, both are about to complete a general studies degree in hopes of getting into the field of social work. But the similarities don’t stop there.
Born in Duluth, MN and raised in Manhattan, KS, NiCole and Amanda met their husbands there who were stationed at Fort Riley. NiCole and her husband, Vicente Aguilar, Jr., have two children ages eight and six, while Amanda has three children, ages 11, 10 and eight, with her husband, Ronald. Unfortunately, being military spouses, moms and students on the same career path is not the end of their affinity. NiCole and Amanda have both had to cope with being the wives of wounded warriors.
Aguilar recently medically retired after 13 years in the Army. In addition to severe back and knee problems and neck and shoulder issues, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and irreversible traumatic brain injury (TBI). Diagnosed eight years after the injury occurred, his therapist said Aguilar will continue to slowly lose his memory to the point where he will one day most likely have complete dementia. “Due to my husband’s head injuries, he is no longer able to work, and will never be able to work a real job again,” sighed NiCole. “This has been an extremely hard adjustment on our family and mainly on him, as he has worked since he was very young.”
On November 2, 2003, Ryker was wounded in Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade ripped through his right leg while he was on patrol. He returned to Iraq three years later. After nearly 13 years in the Army, Ryker retired in May this year and is struggling with PTSD among other injuries. Although he is able to work and currently holds a full-time job, his injuries could easily affect his work status in the future.
And just as Aguilar and Ryker cope with their injuries, NiCole and Amanda endure their husband’s plight as well. NiCole noted the balancing act of tending to the needs of her kids and husband along with her education has been a struggle at times. “At times I have lost focus and had to withdraw or fail from classes depending on what my situation at home was during any given semester,” she said. The act of balance is one I am still learning but I am very determined at this point to graduate in December.”
And like her twin, the situation at home has extended Amanda’s studies. “At times I have only been able to take one class at a time because of what was going on with my husband or children” noted Amanda. “Last year I was under a lot of stress and ended up failing a computer class – not my proudest moment. I am retaking it this semester and hope to finally pass it and move on.”
Another similarity between the twins is both their husbands are from Texas. Aguilar was born in the south Texas city of Pharr, while Ryker is originally from Houston. “When it came time to choose a school, my husband and I have Texas residency so choosing CTC allowed for my school to be a little less expensive,” said NiCole. CTC’s availability at many military installations also helped sway NiCole’s decision to choose the school. “Amanda was already registered to attend classes here at the Fort Riley campus of CTC and knowing the college was offered at Fort Riley as well as at Fort Knox, which is where I started taking classes, was reassuring. If we PCS’d or something, I knew I could most likely continue with the same college wherever we were sent.”
Amanda registered at CTC after hearing about the school’s military-friendly reputation. “My husband is from Texas and I have to say I was super excited to be able to go through a Texas school although I don’t live there.”
With graduation in sight, the twins have depended on a schedule of both online and classroom courses. “I am determined at this point to graduate in December,” exclaimed NiCole. “To do so, I have to take a little more than full load of classes between now and then. But with my husband being home, it has allowed me a little more freedom knowing he can be here for the kids while I work to finish this degree.”
Amanda’s schedule only allows for one classroom course and so she takes all others online. “I would not say being a mother of three with a husband who is injured has really affected my studies it has just prolonged them,” noted Amanda. “I love that everyone at the Fort Riley office is nice and willing to help. They really care about you being able to succeed in college with everything else you may have going on.”
They share the same career choice of social work, they share the same degree plan from the same school, they share the fact their husbands are both from Texas and stationed at the same military post and they share the fact they are mothers and wives of wounded war veterans. But identical twins NiCole and Amanda share much more. They share patience, compassion and perseverance. And like many military families, they share the struggle of maintaining their family structure and improving their way of life in spite of any physical and emotional injuries.
While NiCole and Amanda are poised to graduate, the twins realize their road to the cap and gown was not an easy one and the future may hold even more struggles. NiCole said, “I am using the ceremony as my main goal right now as it is pushing me to not worry as much about the laundry and other daily distractions as I know it will be there later.”