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EXPLORING DOVER'S DIVERSITY - Two sisters from Iran help show how America is a true melting pot

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman James Bolinger
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
During investigations for a three-part series, celebrating and exploring the diversity of Airmen here, base journalists discovered two sisters - both Air Force officers, both dentists and both Iranian immigrants.

Majors Elham and Arezoo Barani are identical twins who, after immigrating to America to go to college, joined the Air Force.

Both are dentists in the 436th Aeromedical Dental Operations Squadron and were recently promoted to major in a dual ceremony.

"It's natural to want to have the same career when you spend every moment together," said Maj. Arezoo Barani. "We wanted to become doctors since high school."

"We do everything together," said Maj. Elham Barani. "We always have."

The first hurdle the sisters jumped on their way to becoming doctors was the language barrier.

When the Baranis came to the U.S. they knew little English.

"We could say things like, 'hi, good morning, goodnight,' but nothing more," said Maj. Elham Barani. "We had no conversational skills."

It took them just six months to learn English.

"We watched lots of T.V., especially soap operas," said Maj. Arezoo Barani. "Actors speak very slowly in soap operas so it was easier to make out what they were saying."

The twins immersed themselves in college right away, before they even learned English.

"We did two semesters at a community college during the summer," said Maj. Elham Barani. "English as a second language was one of our classes, but really just being surrounded by the culture and having to use our English everyday really helped us learn."

After learning the native lingo the sisters decided to attend the University of Texas in Arrington and began their careers in dentistry.

The women graduated from UT in 1996 with bachelor's degrees in biology. They continued on to dental school, graduating in 2001, when they decided to serve their new country.

One of their professors was a retired Air Force colonel who convinced the sisters, who had recently become U.S. citizens, to cross into the blue.

"We needed to do our residency and the Air Force was a good place," said Maj. Elham Barani.

"It also gave us the opportunity to travel," said her sister.

Traveling is something the two have done a lot since they became Airmen.

After completing officer training school in Alabama and their one-year residency in general dentistry at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., the women moved to Kadena AFB, Okinawa, Japan, for their first assignment.

The majors spent two years in Japan and traveled to Korea, Hong Kong and Hawaii while there.

They have also been to Turkey, Switzerland, the former republic of Yugoslavia and Italy.

The women have had every assignment of their careers together and say that the best time they've had in the Air Force, after traveling, is the confusing look on people's faces who don't know their dentist has a twin sister.

"Patients get confused a lot," said Maj. Elham Barani. "Sometimes someone will see me shopping at the commissary and say 'hi' like they know me. I know they think I'm my sister, so I just smile and wave back."

The sisters have been stationed here since 2004 and will remain here until 2008 when their initial service commitment is up.

"We haven't decided if we are going to stay in the Air Force yet," said Maj. Elham Barani. "We have both applied for two-year residency programs in the Air Force, and that will have an effect on our decision to stay."

Maj. Arezoo Barani has applied for an Endodontic Residency (root canal specialist) and her sister for a Pediatric Residency.

The sisters don't know what the future holds for them, but they plan to travel more, especially back to Japan to visit old friends.

Editor's note: Please see the July 20 edition of The Airlifter for the last story in the Exploring Dover's Diversity series. Airman Shen-Chia Chu interviewed 2nd Lt. Lidia Iyassu, 436th Security Forces Squadron, whose family traveled here from Ethiopia.