Bittersweet - The ups and downs of a military family

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Being in the military often means sacrificing many things one can take for granted. Holidays and birthdays are times people expect to spend with loved ones, but that's not always possible for service men and women. 

Training, temporary duties, deployments and everyday responsibilities can run into family time. It becomes a norm. But what about military members married to other military members? With double the commitment to service, quality time is precious.

After being together for 11 years, Tech. Sgt. Zachary Payne, 389th weapons expeditor and Staff Sgt. Joselyn Payne, 391st weapons team chief, both with the Aircraft Maintenance Unit, have spent nearly half of their relationship apart.

With Joselyn typically working days and Zachary working nights, they are left to make the best of the weekends, often their only time to see each other.

"Being mil-to-mil, we knew what we were getting into when we first started dating," Zachary said. "We understood it going in and knew what to expect whenever we first got together."

Instead of looking at the separations as a negative, they look at their understanding of being mil-to-mil as a benefit in their relationship.

While they may understand the sacrifices and separations, their children sometimes don't. With already busy schedules, adding their two young children into the mix is a mission all on its own.

"We try our hardest to do things on the weekends to have them included, even if it's just at the house and [they're] helping me with dishes or laundry," Joselyn said.

Despite the demanding needs of working on the flightline, the Payne's never doubted starting a family together.

"I don't think it ever came to a 'Let's wait' or 'We don't want to have kids,'" Joselyn said. "We always knew we wanted to have children and I always knew I wanted to be a mother and be in the military."

Realizing the obstacles their jobs presented, they knew it would be difficult and require teamwork to successfully build their family.

The already difficult task is even harder for their children to deal with, Zachary said.
At the age of seven, their son is gradually starting to understand what it means to have active duty parents; their two year old daughter is still too young to grasp it.

"It's easier for me to leave [Zachary] because we're both adults; we both understand the job, we both understand what we're getting into," Joselyn said, "But when it comes to sitting down with a child and being like, 'Alright, mommy's leaving for work, mommy won't be back for a while,' they don't get it ... my son gets it, but it's not like it's easier."

Zachary recalls his first time deploying as a father. "My first time was kind of rough because it was our first child ... I missed a lot," at a loss for words, he reiterated, "Yah, it was real hard the first time."

Although Joselyn was at home, it was equally difficult for her; she had to figure out how to be a parent on her own.

"It was eye opening," she recalled. "It was basically like being a single mother."
Without the benefits of modern technology, and thousands of miles in between, it was just as difficult for Zachary. They both learned to lean on their friends and coworkers through their struggles.

In the event they both deploy - which has happened - they rely on the support of their families to make it possible.

"We have a job to do," Zachary said. "We have to deploy and we have to figure it out; we have to kind of think on our feet and we've been very lucky that our family does support us and help us out as much as they can."

While grandparents, aunts and uncles have all stepped up to the plate, it's just not the same as mom and dad being there, Joselyn explained.

After missing so many milestones and inevitably more to come, on a daily basis, Zachary fears the resentment his children may grow to have.

"Well, they're going to throw it in our face and we know that," he chuckled.

Joselyn realizes resentment is a normal phase for most children, but is hoping the children can be more understanding when it comes to their absences.

"Hopefully they're grateful for what we do," she said.

Despite all their children have to sacrifice, neither have ever considered ending their military career. They insist on balancing their want to parent and their desire to serve, both feeling the sacrifices are worth giving their children a safer future.

"Sometimes it takes leaving our children and loved ones and going into that nitty-gritty situation to kind of build that sense of pride in what we do, and that comradery and appreciation," Zachary said. "That's whenever you get the sense of why you do what you do."

Joselyn explained the reasoning behind doing what she does, "I know what my job is; my job is to make sure our national security is good - plain and simple."

With so much dedication to the job, homecomings can often push aside all the
sadness created by a separation; but they can often bring it to the surface just as well.

"It's the best feeling in the world to know that I'm coming home to them and they've been taken care of and they're safe," Joselyn said.

"It's what we do it for," Zachary said, "And in some aspects it's the worst [feeling]," he sullenly countered.

After coming home from his first deployment as a father, his son didn't recognize him.

"My son had no idea who I was because I left whenever he was so young," he said. "I came back and a stranger wanted to hold him; it was hard ... it was."

Being mil-to-mil may seem like nothing but hardships, but for the Payne's there are many benefits.

Of course the standard security, stability and income are a few, but more than anything is the understanding they have of one another.

"I wouldn't be married right now if she wasn't military," Zachary said. "There [were] a lot of times whenever the people that I work for, after working 18 hours would call [their] wife and she wouldn't understand it ... I would call her up and she would ask me why I'm calling her ... 'Go to sleep.'"

Being mil-to-mil helps them to deal with and bare the difficulties most couples would never have to experience.

"She knows I could come home tomorrow and say 'Hey, I'm leaving in a week,'" Zachary said, "It's just the understanding that comes with being mil-to-mil."

They both feel working in the same career field is an even bigger benefit. After watching similar relationships work and fail, they've figured out how to be coworkers and husband and wife.

"We know that business is business and personal is personal, and we try as hard as we can not to cross that line," Zachary said.

Joselyn explained they keep them separate, discussing a day at work as any other couple would, and then moving on to family discussions.

As for what makes it all work - love - they both laughed.  Joking aside, they credit their successful marriage and family life to years of working on communication skills.
"It's taken 11 years to get our process down," chuckled Zachary, "But we've got it and ... "

"It's working," Joselyn concluded.

With at least five years until Zachary retires, they both keep one thing in my mind to continue moving forward, "We understand that what we do is important ... and that's what we go for," he said.