Here is part two of Cynthia Cline’s interview about being a military officer in the Air Force. Her husband is also in the Air Force. He is a pilot. In this half of the interview Cynthia shares how they met and the struggles that they have to overcome to being married in the Air Force.
Your husband is also on active duty, how did you meet your husband?
We met at Ohio State University. We were both in the Reserve Officer Training Corp and were pledging to join a service organization called Arnold Air Society. We were in the same pledge class and became decently good friends. Between sophomore and junior year, we would sometimes make out but nothing ever came of it until senior year when we both finally admitted we had feelings for each other. The rest is history.
How did your life change when you married your spouse?
When we I was single (not married), all of my decisions were centered around me. What kind of house did I want to live in? What color couch do I want? What do I want to eat for dinner? How late do I want to stay out tonight? When we got married, that all changed. It wasn’t about me, me, me, but instead about us. I went from living by myself for 3 years, to have to pick a house with a person who had different and sometimes competing priorities. He absolutely needed a dishwasher where as I absolutely needed an area to entertain guests. Everything finances related changed. I could no longer go out and spend hundreds of dollars on whatever I wanted. In the beginning, it felt like I had to ask for permission when in reality, it was just ensuring that we were both respectful of each other.
Have you ever had to spend time apart during your career, outside of your deployment?
My husband and I spent our first year of marriage apart due to AF assignments.
What was the hardest part of being geographically separated from your spouse?
Two things stand out. The first is that when you need physical support, your spouse may not always be able to take leave to help you out. For example, the first year of our relationship my husband, then boyfriend, was in Florida and I moved to Illinois. During that time, he lost his grandmother unexpectedly, and I lost my grandfather and uncle. During times where we just needed a shoulder to cry on, we had to accept a phone call or text message instead.
The second was trying to figure out how to be husband and spouse when you live in different homes. How do you manage finances? Trying to figure out how to have those discussions proved challenging. Also making each other a priority. It was very easy to get busy with volunteering or hanging with friends that sometimes I would be too busy to talk on the phone. I figured I wasn’t going to put my life on hold waiting for the rare occasion he could call. Instead, I was just making it more difficult for us to communicate.
Did you face any challenges with your spouse being deployed while serving on active duty?
HA! Have you heard of Murphy’s law?
While my husband was gone and I was 5-6 months pregnant, my tire popped on a small country road. I had no signal so I was unable to reach anyone and I had to wait for a stranger to stop and help (took about 20-30 minutes). 5 days later, I was driving down the road in my husband’s truck and hit a pheasant, which smashed the windshield. I had gone through 2 vehicles in less than a week!
On multiple occasions, my daughter had her worst nights while my husband was gone. Think projectile vomit, no sleep, etc.
On top of everything, managing how to get myself and my daughter ready to make it to work on time. Juggling meetings and standard workload while pumping. Keeping up with house chores. And somehow finding the time to work out so I could pass my Physical Fitness Test. Life, in general, is a challenge when you’re pulling solo parent ops.
What is it like to be a dual military couple?
Surprisingly, this is a hard question. Seeing as I’ve only known dual military life, it’s hard for me to compare our marriage with non-dual military couples. My husband and I both took the same oath, yet have very different jobs. Sometimes I joke that we serve in different Air Forces. There are still lots of things we can’t talk about with regards to his work and that can be extremely frustrating. Due to my background/military knowledge, I tend to ask the right/wrong questions that result in an “I can neither confirm nor deny that” response from my husband.
Financially, we are pretty secure, and it’s nice to know our paychecks will be almost exactly the same amount every 1st and 15th. More recently, our work lives have started to intersect and that can make things very complicated. Luckily, we try to leave work at work and still find ways to communicate that doesn’t involve the Air Force.
What challenges do you face while both serving in the military?
In the military, the mission comes first. When two people in a relationship both serve, they basically accept the fact that work will have to come first pretty often. When one person has the opportunity to put family first, the other person might not have the opportunity.
What is the hardest part of being a dual military couple?
The hardest part about dual military life is trying to plan anything. For example, my husband is usually on a pretty set deployment cycle whereas I am not. He deployed last year and then a few months later I deployed. We had to change a lot of plans around due to my deployment, to include canceling a few TDYs he had lined up.
When we try to take leave for the holidays, my husband has to contend with the flying schedule and make sure there are enough people available to fly. I, on the other hand, have to allow my subordinates to schedule their plans and then work around them. So typically, a schedule that works for my husband does not work for me. When our child gets sick the mission is impacted. We usually have to discuss which impact is greater, mine or his.
Are you planning to stay in the military for 20 years as dual military couple? What factors will determine if this will happen?
Honestly, I don’t know. Every day is different in regards to how long I will stay in the military. My husband has a longer commitment than I do, so if someone ends up leaving it will be me. Money and benefits are a huge perk to staying in. There is no hiding the fact that dual officers get paid really well, but sometimes the money isn’t worth the sacrifice and stress.
Having someone else dictate when you are allowed to visit family, having to contend with two separate supervisors to try to take off the same day, having to always put the mission first is exhausting. Ultimately, my husband and I were the ones who took the oath, not our daughter. I want her to have the best life and I’m not sure that dual military parents can do that.
How did being in the military affect you as a person? Did it change you? Did you learn anything about yourself?
Being in the military did change me. I come from a Hispanic, inner-city Cleveland, family where most people don’t leave their neighborhood. I learned that I can survive to leave a child behind to serve our country. I learned that sometimes, being a woman means you have to try a little bit harder to gain the respect of your male and female coworkers. I also learned that when push comes to shove, I can achieve anything the Air Force requires of me.
What is your favorite memory from your military experience?
During my last assignment, I had an extremely toxic commander. If I had been able to, I would have separated from the military just to get away from him. During my last day, I had a small going away event with my flight. One of my members created a beautiful wooden box for me. On the outside, she had a plate that said: “Whenever you are frustrated or upset, open this box and remember why you serve”. Inside the box was hundreds of personalized notes from everyone in my squadron. When she presented me that box, my heart wept. Despite feeling like I had failed my flight, they appreciated everything I had done for them. In that moment, I realized I continue to serve to protect those I oversee. As long as I take care of my troops, then I have done my job. Receiving that gift has been the highlight of my career.