They were born 15 seconds apart and were best friends. The Hansen twins were competitors and athletes, and both enlisted in the Marines.
“Everything we did, we did together,” said Matthew of his slightly older brother, Daniel. “We spent the first nine months huddled up together -- it’s hard to separate after that.”
It took a war to break them apart. Staff Sgt. Daniel Hansen died in Afghanistan on Feb. 14 after his foot patrol was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Hansen, 24, joined the Marines just days after he graduated from Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, Calif., in 2002. He and Matthew left for boot camp in San Diego one week apart, with Daniel heading off first. Daniel was assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 in Iwakuni, Japan, in January 2008 and deployed to Afghanistan’s Farah province.
Hansen was buried at Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage on March 2 after an official memorial service at nearby Elmendorf Air Force Base on Feb. 28. His parents now have a home in Alaska. Another memorial ceremony was held at West High School on March 7.
Before serving in Afghanistan, Hansen was handpicked to guard Camp David in May 2004. There he worked directly with the Secret Service and provided security for heads of state before deploying to Fallouja, Iraq, where he served security detail for generals and other heads of state.
“He’s a Marine’s Marine,” said Navy Lt. j.g. Jake Keefe, 25, who trained with Hansen in an explosives disposal program. “I just knew he would do something great.”
Hansen was the kind of man who excelled in everything he did, his brother said. In high school, he played football and participated in wrestling, cross country and track and field. Later, he took up mixed martial arts and occasionally wrote short stories with his brother.
But Hansen’s true passion was competing against his brother, a friendly but fierce rivalry that stayed with the twins throughout their lives.
“We always wanted to be heroes in whatever we did,” said Matthew, who works in logistics in Quantico, Va. “There’s something we really enjoyed about competing against each other on a physical level.”
Matthew, also a staff sergeant, remembers being stationed near his brother in Iraq during their first deployment. Daniel was guarding a general at the time, but that didn’t stop the rough-housing.
“He Tasered me!” recalled Matthew, who was stunned into submission while their superiors laughed at the siblings. When the pair sparred outside a general’s home near Camp Pendleton, the two were reprimanded, not for fighting, but for not letting the higher-ups watch.
“They were very competitive, but more tight than brothers,” said Camie Schmidt, Hansen’s cousin and godmother. “It’s hard for me to consider Matthew without Daniel -- it’s almost like one thought.”
Even though the brothers shared a unique kinship, Hansen forged his own way through the Marines. After a tour in Iraq, Hansen was chosen to participate in an elite explosives disposal program in Florida. He was one of the few who had already served in a war zone, and others in the class looked up to him, Keefe said.
“All the younger guys were always asking him questions about Iraq,” he said. “We called him the robot because he was so precise, and Captain America because he was the American poster boy.”
Hansen’s military ties ran deep. His father, Delbert, was in the Army, and a sister, 22-year-old Katie Anne Hansen, still serves in the Army. Both of his grandfathers enlisted -- one in the Navy, the other in the Army -- and his mother, Sheryll, worked in a military shipyard in Alameda while she was pregnant with the twins. Matthew’s wife, Stefanie, is also a Marine.
Daniel Hansen is also survived by half-sister Trena Hansen and fiancee Emily Campbell.
“They were brought up to be serving individuals,” Schmidt said. “You serve your country and you serve your people. That’s the right thing to do.”
Despite Hansen’s impressive military record, nothing proved more exhilarating than challenging his brother. As boys, the two would hike through the California countryside, racing each other through long and strenuous trails.
“That’s where we coined our favorite phrase,” Matthew said. “ ‘I’ll see you at the top.’ ”