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Couples Make NCO Rank Together

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.--When Air Force officials announced who'd made staff sergeant Aug. 3, two Team Eglin families received twice the good news.

Senior Airmen Joseph and Nicole Calungsod of the 33rd Fighter Wing and Senior Airmen Richard and Airel Schepmoes of the 96th Test Wing, both married couples, all received notifications on their selection to become NCOs.

The phenomenon of couples making rank together is not unique in the Air Force, but what makes these couples distinctive is both made the same rank on the same cycle and are in the same squadron, flight and even have the same job. The Calungsods are both in the non-destructive inspection section of the 33rd Maintenance Squadron and the Schepmoes are members of Eglin's weather flight.

Their reactions to the big news ranged from immediate to delayed.

"We were on the phone with each other when we found out," said Nicole, 22, an Ohio native. "I was screaming in excitement and he was laughing at me. (Then,) since we both made it, I wanted to see who made it by more points."

For the Schepmoes, the reaction didn't settle in until the ride home from work that day.

"We are the only Airmen in the flight right now, but soon it'll be all staffs and above," said Richard Schepmoes, 24, who scored lower than Airel on the test, but has a higher line number.

For both couples, the Air Force romance began in tech school. 

The Schepmoes joined in 2007 and met at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. They were scheduled to go to Scott AFB, Ill., and Sembach Air Base, Germany, but the Schepmoes couldn't bear to be apart. They married while at Keesler; then were both stationed at Sembach AB.

"We've surpassed the stereotype about tech school marriages," said Airel, a 23-year-old Virginia native.

Similarly, the Calungsods joined the Air Force in 2008 and sat beside each other for the first training block at their tech school in Pensacola, Fla. The couple claims they were only friends at tech school, but an orders swap by Joseph and their class leader had their classmates thinking otherwise. Nicole's orders sent her to Misawa AB, Japan, and with the swap, Joseph would go there as well.

"They all thought we were together, but we didn't start dating until about five months into our tour and married a year later," said Joseph, 28, who will sew on his new stripe three months before his wife.

Although their schedules sometimes hinder them from spending time with each other, both couples have found ways to cope and even thrive.

The Schepmoes said they are very thankful for weekends at Eglin when there's no flying. Then, they are able to soak up time together with their daughter, Brianna, who's almost two years old.

"We were in separate flights in Germany, so we almost never saw each other. It's been better since we've been here," said Airel, who must attend Airman Leadership School before sewing on her new stripe.

Although they hold the same job description and training, the Calungsods have had opportunities to move around within the maintenance career field. Both said their competitive nature, especially with each other, drives them to excel.

"We like to prove each other wrong, but I think that helps us both in the long run to grow as Airmen," said Joseph, a New Jersey native. "Our deployments, TDYs and our tour in Korea at separate bases taught us different aspects of our job that we could learn from each other. Also, as two different people, attacking the same problems from different angles helps us find the most efficient way to solve them."

The couples have varying reasons as to what helped them earn that new stripe.

Richard and Airel said they were better prepared this time for the job portion of the test, due to the weather observation training they received here.

"Actually performing the task helped clarify it for us, rather than it being a theoretical concept," said Robert, a Colorado native.

The Calungsods said along with a lot of studying, their temporary duty with the honor guard was a major factor in their selection for the NCO stripe on their first try.

"We had great mentoring from our honor guard leaders, who taught us things such as dress and appearance, customs and courtesies, and protocol," said Joseph.

All four Airmen plan to make the Air Force a career, but both men are planning to cross-train. While Richard said he hopes for more time with his wife and daughter, Joseph is also preparing for more family time, as he and Nicole expect their first child in January.

More than 300 Eglin Airmen were selected for promotion this year. Approximately 40 percent of those eligible were selected for promotion Air Force-wide.

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