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Love, Service, and Sacrifice

Maj. Sarah and Maj. John, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Robert Scott)

Maj. Sarah and Maj. John, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Robert Scott)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- "Will you marry me?"  It's a phrase that invokes an overabundance of emotions for many and depending on the answer, the beginning of a new journey.
  
Marriages and relationships are all about compromise, communication, teamwork, sacrifice, commitment, love, (insert your thoughts here). Everyone has an opinion of what makes a marriage successful. Most married couples will proclaim that a successful marriage doesn't just happen; there's an equation.

Add in being active duty military, you have a much more difficult math problem. Factor in deployments, 24/7 duty obligations, traveling, physical fitness tests, constant moving from state to state, country to country, the stressors within military marriages are abundant.

Military marriages sometime need more than love. It takes hard work, patience and lots of compromise.

After more than nine years of marriage to a fellow service member, I know all too well the struggles that military couples face. My husband has been deployed or away 652 days of our marriage. I gave birth to our youngest daughter with him on Skype from in Southeast Asia.

Though sometimes the road has been rough, my commitment to serve our country is not something I regret. But it made me wonder... are my experiences similar in comparison to other military couples? 

So, I interviewed a local military couple, to gain some insight into their marriage and offer some advice on what they've had to endure in the name of love, service, and sacrifice...

Never Flying Solo

For Maj. John and Maj. Sarah, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 pilots, love had to survive the hardships of a long-distance relationship.

Having graduated a class apart at the Air Force Academy, they didn't officially meet until being introduced by a mutual friend at a Halloween party, while attending under-graduate pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.

"She was dressed as a doctor and we talked for much of the night," John confessed.

"When she wasn't looking, I took her nametag."

John had a plan.  He needed a reason to see her again. 

"When he returned it to me it had his number on the back," laughed Sarah.

There was a method to his madness.  They became a couple.

"During pilot training, I was tracked to fighters and he had been tracked to flying cargo aircraft. We knew our platforms would take us in different directions," Sarah explained.

John would be flying C-5's and C-17's on one side of the country while Sarah would be on the other flying F-16's.

"We had to decide if it was time to part ways or to give it 100 percent commitment," Sarah stated.

A promise was made. They chose each other and began their marriage and their careers hundreds, at one point, thousands of miles apart.

Sarah would continue pilot training at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia and John would be stationed Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. Next she'd go to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for F-16 training. After qualification, Sarah's first flying assignment was at Shaw Air Force Base., South Carolina.

"The beginning required lots of patience and sacrifice," John said.

But Sarah and John always tend to look on the brighter side of things.

"We were less than three hours apart!" Sarah exclaimed. "We were able to see a lot more of one another, the most out of our five years of marriage."

Sarah hoped to stay at Shaw as long as John was at Charleston.

"I went to Korea for a year, hopeful to stay at Shaw," Sarah said.

This endeavor wasn't without sacrifice.

"She came back from Korea to a non-flying job; I knew she did that for me," said John.

Sarah insisted that in military relationships realistic expectations are vital for success.

"When faced with tough decisions your priorities become clear," Sarah said. "I think it's important for couples to go in knowing that at some point each of us may have to make a sacrifice."

While at Shaw, Sarah decided to apply to the U-2 program at Beale Air Force Base, California.

"I knew she would get accepted. But now, the pressure was on me," said John.

John was also hired to the U-2 program and they PCS'd to their first duty station together.

"We're now able to live like normal couple," Sarah said. "It's also cool to be flying the same plane as my husband."

John would have to agree.

"The U-2 may be a single-manned aircraft but I am never alone when I'm flying because I feel like my wife is always by my side."

The couple is preparing to celebrate their 10th year of marriage and recently welcomed their first baby girl, Catherine.

Sarah and John are examples of patience and sacrifice. Their love has withstood many perils but they remained true to career obligations and each other, throughout the uncertainties of a dual military relationship.  It's a beautiful story.

After hearing it, I reflected on all of my personal sacrifices, separations and compromises over the years, and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.