Dual-military families

By Georganne Hassell
Air Force spouse

Even before my husband and I met, people called us by the same name: lieutenant. When you wear a single bar on your shoulder, there’s not much else to call you by anyway. My then-fellow lieutenant and now husband, Jonathan, was a pilot in the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., when we met. I was a public affairs officer for the same wing, and each of us was living the dream we had worked toward for years. While Jonathan worked on his tactics as a new pilot, I tried to shed a shade of green working with reporters covering the military beat. In between his upgrade rides and my airshow travel, we had the opportunity to take a temporary duty assignment, or TDY, together to South Korea. Apparently, flying for 13 hours in coach class without annoying each other gave us enough confidence to think about a future together. Less than two weeks later we had no doubt — we would someday be called husband and wife.

The day after Jonathan and I decided we wanted to get married, I received an assignment to move from Virginia to California within four months. Sometimes orders come at the least convenient times, but we both knew that living in the same place was more of a luxury than a guarantee. We were unsuccessful in trying to turn off the assignment, and so a few months after our engagement I settled into life with a new duty Air Force Specialty Code at a recruiting squadron, while Jonathan continued flying at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. Just three weeks after I arrived at my new base, I received another set of orders — this time with Afghanistan as my new destination. These orders caught me even more off guard than my recent permanent change of station for two reasons: recruiting squadrons didn’t traditionally deploy Airmen, and I would be working again as a public affairs officer, which was the career field I was just moved out of so I could work in recruiting. As confused as I was about this recent turn of events, it left Jonathan with a clear mindset. He would volunteer to deploy to Afghanistan.

We didn’t take this decision lightly. My deployment was inevitable, and in truth I was glad to be back working as a PAO and even excited to deploy, but Jonathan would be stepping out of his hard-earned seat in a dual-engine fighter and into a dual-prop aircraft, which is not normally the path of choice for his career field.

Before we took off on our own separate paths to the desert, we got married. We chose to say our vows in the place that brought us together, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis’ base chapel. We welcomed family and friends to Virginia for our wedding ceremony, but asked just one request of them: not to talk about our upcoming deployments. You could read the unease in many of their eyes about a young couple getting married and then going to war, but we didn’t need to discuss it then. We wanted one day of being present and at peace.

I flew back to my recruiting squadron after the wedding and saw Jonathan three more times before I left for my deployment to Zabul province, Afghanistan. He deployed just a few weeks after me to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and our fourth meeting as husband and wife came not long after. Work brought me to his base a few times during our deployment, but even those visits were overshadowed by military protocol and mortar attacks. My deployment only lasted a few months, and though I traveled through Kandahar on my way out, Jonathan was only about halfway through his tour. War brings many burdens. Leaving my husband behind to complete his duty was just one of them.

Thankfully, Jonathan’s deployment ended safely. He returned to Joint Base Langley-Eustis and to his role as a fighter pilot while I continued working in the recruiting squadron. The difficult decision for me to leave the Air Force was made soon after my husband’s redeployment. We knew that the best choice for our family was to only have one of us on active duty, and since he had several more years to go on his service commitment, I would have to be the one to drop papers. My time as a military officer ended later that year, and though my service was brief, it gave me a strong sense of purpose and the honor of working with some truly fantastic people.

The transition to civilian life was not an easy one, especially because of the near-pulseless job market. I looked forward to continuing in the field of public relations and putting my communications skills to work, but opportunities were scarce. Freelancing as a writer and editor offered a good transition, but I did miss many aspects of the service: camaraderie, structure and a fast-paced workplace, to name a few. Luckily, I found a new mission with my current work in academe, but I don’t believe there’s anything that can compare with wearing the uniform every day. I’ve come to accept that my career path will continue to look very different from what I imagined when I first said the oath of office as a new college graduate.

Though life as a spouse challenged me greatly in terms of my career and will continue to do so in the future, I have been overwhelmingly blessed with support of my husband, his squadron and our military community. I have found my fellow spouses to be gracious and caring; I am honored to know them and proud to call them friends. Jonathan and I both knew the day would come when one of us would have to leave the service, and even though it came sooner than I hoped, I look forward to being a part of the Air Force community for years to come.