It's no secret that life in the military, while rewarding, has its challenges. In this final installment on how military families balance their personal lives with work, three military couples share what it's like to be "married to the military".
Ch. (Lt. Col.) Mark Campbell, JBAB senior installation chaplain, and Lt. Col. Shelley Campbell, health care integrator, 779th Medical Group at Joint Base Andrews, met in their hometown of Roseburg, Ore., where Chaplain Campbell's father was a pastor.
They will celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary this summer.
Mark Campbell began his military career in the Air Force Reserves in 1987 at 32 years old, and activated in 1992. Shelley Campbell began her Air Force career in 1995 at the age of 39. At that point, they had already been married for 17 years and had four children.
Tech. Sgt. Ami Parrish, JBAB Public Works Department unit education and training manager, met her husband, Army Sergeant 1st Class Brian Parrish, on a night out in Landstuhl, Germany.
They began dating soon after they met in November 2004, and in January 2005, shortly after being sent on a one-year tour to Kuwait, Brian Parrish proposed.
"We knew we wanted to be together and we wanted to get married," Ami Parrish said. "You could definitely call it a whirlwind romance."
They said their vows in June 2006.
They have three children-Katie, 4; Brady, 1; and Shelby, 5 months.
Her husband is currently serving a one-year tour in Korea.
Senior Master Sgt. David Gardner, 744th Communications Squadron superintendent of operations and integration, and Master Sgt. Cynthia Gardner, 579th Medical Group first sergeant, met as Airmen at their first duty station at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom in 1993. They have been married for 17 years.
They have two children-Logan, 13, and Alyson, 8.
Juggling it all
Military service for one person is a juggling act. Military service for two people, plus a family, plus other obligations, could become a circus without the proper planning and the proper attitude.
"I think it would've been very difficult for me to do this without Mark," said Shelley Campbell. "It was more than helpful to have both of us with the demands of the children, plus frequently moving, both of us deploying and being apart for school assignments. It took a lot of intricate weaving to make it all work."
Mark Campbell reiterated the challenges of coordinating work life and family life associated with mil-to-mil service.
"There's always that threat that one of us could be deployed or recalled, and that's especially a concern when you have young children and other obligations," Campbell said.
"That's part of the reason I came in when I did," his wife Shelley added. "At that time our oldest child was old enough to stay home with the others and the youngest was in school, so if I got recalled at 5 a.m., I had a little built-in network of children who could watch out for each other."
She explained that at her first duty station, she had a total of seven temporary duty assignments (TDYs) the year her husband was assigned to a one-year remote to Korea, and all four of their children went to different schools.
"We came together as a family because we knew we had to depend on each other. I always say that the greatest blessing and the greatest curse at that time was that I had a 16-year-old son with a driver's license. The blessing was that he could take the other kids around and deposit them places. The curse was having a 16-year-old son driving in Texas," she joked.
"Two words that come to mind when I think of mil-to-mil marriages are 'intentionality' and 'flexibility,'" said Campbell. "Shelley and I have incorporated both of those aspects into our marriage, our careers and our parenting.."
Cynthia Gardner said that coordinating careers and families and making it all work is not always easy.
"It can be kind of rough making sure that if I leave for a deployment, for instance, that he is able to take care of all the financials and take care of the kids, since both of our kids are very active," she said. "The whole single parent lifestyle takes a while to get used to."
David Gardner agreed.
"There have been lots of times when our daughter has gone to school with a crazy hairdo when it was up to me to get her ready, because my wife was deployed for six months to Iraq," he joked. "It's all about preparation and making sure the other person has what they need to be successful."
Ami Parrish juggles being a single parent of three small children while her husband, Army Sergeant 1st Class Brian Parrish, serves a year-long remote tour to Korea.
"It's been really tough," she said. "If I had a choice, I'd certainly choose to have my husband here with me, but I enjoy having my job and I enjoy having my kids. The toughest part has probably been giving birth to our daughter while he was gone."
She said that for her, it all goes back to prioritizing.
"The bottles have to be made, but the dishes can be put off. The floor needs to be vacuumed, but the kids would really like a story. It's about figuring out what's most important, and getting that done first. Reading a story is much more fun than vacuuming anyway."
The Military and Family Support Center has resources to help spouses, military and civilian, cope with the stresses of military life. For more information, call 202-767-0450 or 202-433-6151.