GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Military marriages, whether civilian-military or military-military, inherently call for spousal sacrifice and career flexibility. Joint military marriages, known as "mil-to-mil" are a one kind of military relationship that takes sacrifice and career plans to a challenging but rewarding level. Amongst the total military active duty force, 6.4 percent are dual-military married.
2nd Lt. Jaymi Black, 315th Training Squadron student, said the experience has been enjoyable and challenging.
"I love that we are able to communicate and understand the alphabet soup that is military speak," said Black. "However, as with any military marriage, the unknowns can increase the stress levels a bit."
Unknown variables, like deployments and separations can play into the stressfulness of the situation. Especially with children.
2nd Lt. Leilani McLimans, 315th TRS student, expressed her family challenges.
"With my little man it's hard," said McLimans. "[He] would only have his parents home four and a half to five months out of the year - only [seeing me] once a month for the last two months. But we know it's going to make him stronger, because that's how I was raised."
There is mandatory paperwork called a Family Care Plan that dual-military spouses are required to fill out, similar to a power of attorney, in the case that their children are ever left without parents.
Even pets need to be thought of, as Black emphasizes for her and her husband who have been separated for a year, this has been one of the hardest parts.
"One of our dogs is pretty high maintenance ... so we end up having to burden one of our gracious friends to watch him," said Black.
There is a common value of respect for each military member in their marriage, as both members will remain in the service because of their devotion to their jobs.
"We both love what we do and are not willing to sacrifice who we are," said 2nd Lt. Regina Panting, 315th TRS student. "We came into our relationship knowing what the other one wanted out their career."
For those considering marrying mil-to-mil, Panting offers the following ... "to realize that mil-to-mil is a higher commitment than just getting married. You have to be prepared for the fact that you can deploy, and as soon as you get home your spouse can be out the door on a deployment, ... requires a lot of personal strength."
A thorough examination of both spouse's career plans are essential, in addition to family plans. Talking about how many children you both want, and the possibility of both parents staying in should be discussed and decided while thinking ahead.
"I have met people that had kids and one of them got out of the military to stay home with the baby," said Panting. "They weren't prepared, they regretted it and couldn't find a job. People need to be clear about what they want out of their military career because at that point you are impacting both careers."
Certainly the solidarity of mutual aspirations for both staying in is part of the whole, and the Air Force recognizes this but it's not without complications.
"We've been really blessed," said McLimans. "We've had a great community. They've been awesome and taken care of us. They've always kept us together. It's not always where we would want to go, it's been on the Air Force's need, but we've always been able to be together whether we deploy together or if we were to stay home together."
The realities of being in the same career field and same rank does pose a challenge.
"As an officer, one of the reasons why I decided to go this route was because once my husband and I got to senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant, we felt like it was going to be hard to be stationed at the same location because for our career field there aren't a lot of positions we could both be, and still move and grow for the next rank," said McLimans.
For couple 2nd Lt. Chelsea Waggoner, 315th TRS student and wife Master Sgt. Sarah Waggoner, Air Combat Command Collection Management, provided advice for couples considering joint spouse status.
"Think long and hard about the challenges your relationship is likely to face," said Chelsea Waggoner. "There will be periods of time where you may only have two to four weeks of time together before the other is gone for training, TDY, deployment and vice versa. If your relationship doesn't have a solid foundation before you join the mil-to-mil ranks it is likely to fail."
That solid foundation starts with good communication, she stressed.
"Ensure each understands the demands of one another's job. Ensure each is on the same page regarding the importance of family. Work together to ensure you have a healthy work-family balance. Ensure you work on how to effectively communicate when together and apart because communication is key. Seize opportunities to take some time off, away from work together, and enjoy doing something you each love. If you do these things, I have no doubt that your relationship will thrive as a mil-to-mil couple."
Military marriages, especially mil-to-mil relationships, are a challenging yet doable aspect of military life. Keeping communication open and thoroughly evaluating the consequences of the choice to both stay in the military will assist in meeting the challenges and adventures that lie ahead for both spouses.
"Work-life balance, as they say," recalls Black. "A commander once told me, 'When you hang the uniform up for the final time, you want your spouse's clothes to still be in the closet.'"