Two married sergeants major made Marine Corps history when they retired in a dual ceremony Friday morning. With more than 60 years of combined service, Sgts. Maj. Bradley and Holly Prafke retired moments apart during a ceremony on the flight line of Marine Corps Air Station New River. "We're totally excited about being retired after 30 years because it gives us 60 more years of leave," joked Sgt. Maj. Holly Prafke, 49, of James City. "...We've always been best friends and drinking buddies. ...I'm glad I could share today with him.
"I wouldn't have it any other way." The Prafkes have been married for 27 years of their respective careers, and their dual retirement marks the first time the Marine Corps has conducted a same-day retirement of two Marines married to each other who both achieved the rank of sergeant major. Both Marines were decorated Friday. Bradley Prafke received the Legion of Merit and Holly Prafke received the Meritorious Service Medal. Both received certificates of appreciation from President Barack Obama and messages from the commandant and sergeant major of the Marine Corps. "We've thought about the tours we've had to combat and we're just glad we can look each other in the face and be healthy," Holly Prafke said. "We've had some rough times, but we've had some great times. We've been to schools together and the drill field together. There's been bad times, but far more good." Whether it was a physical fitness test or grades in school, part of what has made the Marine Corps and their marriage so enjoyable for 27 years is the friendly banter and competition between them, she said. "He's my biggest fan, my best supporter and my best friend," she said. "We've grown up together -- not apart." Meeting when both were lance corporals, the two became best friends even before courting. The most difficult part of their careers and marriage came from the years spent apart because of Marine Corps obligations, Bradley Prafke said. "Out of the 27 years, we've only been together for 16, whether it's due to combat, the field or other separations," said Bradley Prafke, who relinquished his responsibilities as sergeant major of Marine Aircraft Group 29 to Sgt. Maj. John J. Elliot moments before retiring. "...We both are Marines so we both understood when the other had to work late or deploy." Both plan on "paying it forward" by involving themselves with veteran organizations. Neither will seek immediate employment to maximize their time together and work on their individual hobbies, such as sewing and restoring classic cars. "We are different people than we were 30 years ago," he said. "I'm very humbled by the comments made by some of the people. You never really realize what people think of you until it's time for you to leave." The couple said they will miss the Marine Corps as a whole, but are excited about their future together in retirement. "We didn't start out trying to make history," Bradley Prafke said. "...Through our career of getting promoted, she was always ahead of me. But I get the last laugh because I'm senior now."