Identical triplets Donald, Jack, and Joseph Claros appear to be mirror images—5 feet, 4 inches tall, 125 pounds, whitewall haircuts, small wire rimmed glasses. They are soft-spoken, polite, and typically respond to questions from their elders with a “Yes sir” or “No madam.” Sometimes they dress the same—camouflage fatigues or dress green uniforms—as Army ROTC cadets at Washington State University.

Jack (architectural studies) and Donald (communications) received their degrees and Army commissions May 11. Joseph switched from interior design to communications. He will graduate in December.

The military has been a means to an end for the brothers, helping them finance their college education and providing new opportunities and training. The brothers joined the National Guard after graduating from Spokane’s Ferris High School. They had the foresight to schedule their basic and advanced training for the summers—before and after their freshman year at WSU—so as not to interfere with school. First they went to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, and then Ft. Bliss, Texas.

In addition, they found jobs at WSU. Joe works 20 to 25 hours a week in the Registrar’s Office. Jack splits 20 hours a week between the Rotunda dining hall and as a cook’s assistant in the CUB. Donald worked 15 hours a week in the CUB kitchen.

The triplets, now 22, were born December 28, 1979 in El Salvador. Donald was the first arrival, followed at five-minute intervals by Jack and Joseph. Carlos, Jr., 19, and sister Bella, 11, complete the family.

“Our parents always worked hard,” Jack said. Their father is a house painter, their mother a nurse’s assistant. “They told us, ‘You have to sacrifice to go where you want to go.’”

While discipline was stressed, the Claroses also cut the boys some slack. “Our parents encouraged us to do what we wanted to do [for ourselves], not for them,” said Donald.

Donald came to WSU because of the reputation of the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication. He plans is to attend the Conservatory of Audio Recording and Sciences in Tempe, Arizona, following his military hitch, and become an audio engineer. Someday he wants to have his own recording label. Jack eventually plans to pursue a master’s degree in architecture at Oregon State University. Joseph is considering the advertising field. He has accumulated 31 hours in interior design and is intrigued by space planning and furniture design as other possible options, after the Army.

“This is a country that has given us a lot of opportunity,” says Joseph. “This [military service] is the way to give back.”

Donald and Jack are waiting for orders to report to the 17-week Officers Basic Course at Ft. Leonard Wood. Both are combat engineers. Donald was ROTC cadet battalion commander at WSU last fall. As winner of the George C. Marshall Award at WSU, he and more than 200 other cadet leaders nationally were invited to Lexington, Virginia in April to meet President George W. Bush and attend a seminar on national defense, world affairs, and strategic planning.

In all they do as individuals and as brothers, Joseph said, “You want to represent the Claros name. You don’t want to be the one that doesn’t stand out.”

As the first in their family to graduate, college was a “big step” for the triplets. But with more people attending college now than in previous generations, Jack says “It makes the job market today more competitive. It may mean you need to prove yourself more, or sell yourself better when you go looking for a job.”

The Claros family moved from El Salvador to Los Angeles when the boys were three, and then, seeking a different environment, moved to Spokane when they were 15. In 1989, when the brothers were 10, the family returned to El Salvador—their only visit.

“It [El Salvador] was a nice place to visit,” Joseph says, “but living in the U.S. so long, I don’t think we could go back and live there. It’s different—a third-world country  . . . a big difference.”

Norma Hatley, program coordinator in military sciences at WSU, has been a close observer of the Claros brothers since they arrived on campus four years ago.

“Initially, the fact that we had three look-alikes was a novelty. They’ve had a lot of publicity. It hasn’t gone to their heads. They are all individuals. Each one wants to be known on his own merits, not just as ‘one of them.’”