Different branches, Same Family Tree
Story by SPC Grant Ligon on 03/18/2019
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — The 502nd Military Police Battalion Criminal Investigation Command conducted a Change of Command Ceremony on Jan. 4, 2019. As Army Lt. Col. Whitney Jensen, former commander of the 502nd MP Battalion CID shared her experience in commanding the unit; there was a familiar face in the crowd.
Air Force Lt. Col. Asheleigh Gellner, Homeland Deputy Division Chief, Western Hemisphere, J-5, her identical twin made an appearance to support her sister.
Identical twins share many physical characteristics. Growing up, they also tend to share friends, school interests and sports. Both the Jensen twins joined ROTC in college, graduated with degrees in Political Science, joined the military and reached the prestigious rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Gellner was born 9 minutes before Jensen on Feb. 19, 1977. The two say it’s no longer an important statistic, but when they were kids, nine minutes was a huge deal.
“Little known fact about identical twins is the second child that is born is actually the original egg from which the copy derives from,” said Jensen. “I didn’t know that when we were growing up of course.”
Their parents raised the pair as independent and separate people. When peers would ask about where “the other half is,” their mother would always correct people that they are their own person.
As their junior year of high school came around, the two were allowed to study abroad. Jensen won a scholarship and went to Germany, while Gellner went to Italy. After their life changing experiences abroad, the two decided to aim their studies toward political science and learn about geopolitics.
Jensen stayed in California attending school before transferring and finishing her degree at the University of South Alabama, while Gellner graduated from Indiana University.
“I’m going to take credit for you (Jensen) joining the Army though, because I joined Air Force ROTC first,” said Gellner. “I think she thought, oh, I can’t join the Air Force, I’ve got to join the Army.”
While Jensen did not confirm or deny that statement, she fell in love with the Army regardless. Originally having plans to become an MP to get investigative experience to apply for the FBI, something stuck about the Army.
“I always admired the fact that she just had this huge passion for the Army and the moment that she graduated from basic training, I knew the FBI thing was out the window,” said Gellner. “She was going to make it a career because you could just see it in her eyes that she loved the Army.”
In high school they participated in sports such as soccer, gymnastics and karate. The two enjoyed the competition, but they also valued their differences by competing in different events such as swimming and diving.
Now, the two share their passion to compete by making it a tradition to run in the Army 10-miler. The two have competed for the past three years in a row even when Gellner was four months post partum.
“It was amazing. She’s bringing her lactation devices and breast pump with her and she’s doing a breast pump session before we start the race,” said Jensen. “Which is not uncommon when you talk to runners and Mom’s that are runners.”
“Well kudos to my husband who stayed back with the four month old, so I could go to it,” said Gellner. “If you ever get a chance to do the Army 10-miler, it’s a great race.”
While sibling rivalry is present, they now prefer complimenting each other on their success.
“Asheleigh is a Mom to two amazing kids, I live vicariously through her,” said Jensen. “She’s a Mom, she’s a professional and she’s balancing it all.”
“She (Jensen) graduated Distinguished Honor Graduate from Air Assault School which is just amazing to me,” said Gellner. “There aren’t too many people that are even good enough at that caliber to graduate DG and then to be a female.”
Jensen has three combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, one in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and one operational deployment in support of KFOR.
“I think for someone in the military to have all those experiences is just something that I never will be able to do,” said Gellner. “I think it’s made her a better officer and better prepared for whatever comes next.”
Although the two are with different branches, they have been mistaken for the other on military installations.
“One of the Army ROTC units shared a building with Air Force ROTC at Indiana University,” said Gellner. “One of the guys went to advanced camp with her (Jensen) and he thought he recognized me.”
“I’ve been on two separate deployments where they recognize me or thought they recognized me,” said Jensen. “But really it was my sister that they recognized.”
The two haven’t crossed paths professionally, however, they did share the same national capital region when Jensen was at the Pentagon and Gellner was at Andrews Air Force Base.
They also did their lieutenant colonel promotion ceremony together.
“She was already in at Lieutenant Colonel position waiting to get her packet approved,” said Jensen. “I was eligible for lieutenant colonel so we just talked about how cool it would be if it happened around the same time.”
They were unsure if the ceremony would work out with the time constraint on papers needing to be signed, organizing a venue date and getting Generals together. The two prepared for the minute possibility of a joint promotion ceremony.
It came down to the wire, but the long shot, became a reality.
Gellner at the time was also eight and a half months pregnant.
Jensen and Gellner wanted to do their promotion at the 9/11 Memorial Chapel at the Pentagon. The twins’ aunt, Suzanne Calley (Jensen) was one of the passengers on board American Airlines Flight 77 and died when it crashed that day on September 11th.
“The fact that we were able to do it at the venue as well, at the 9/11 venue just to pay tribute to our aunt,” said Gellner. “It’s something you feel, especially when you’re stationed at the Pentagon and you walk through those halls and meet people who were there.”
The two credit success from a mutual pride, appreciation and support for each other.
“It’s gone back and forth, just perfect sibling rivalry,” said Jensen. “And you pretend like you’ve matured past that but it’s still in the back of my head.”