SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) – In sickness and in health, till deployments do us part is not a line included in most wedding vows. However, for joint military spouses, deployments can present additional challenges to already tested unions.
A couple assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Civil Engineer Squadron was fortunate to avoid that trial when they received the opportunity to deploy together.
Senior Airmen Shawn and Hillary Brock, firefighters deployed from Misawa Air Base, Japan, were excited when they got the call informing them that they would be deploying together. It meant giving their young marriage a chance to continue to grow.
"We met at the fire academy, through a mutual friend," said Shawn. "My friend told me that he had someone he wanted me to meet, but didn't specify whether it was a man or a woman. He just said they also had orders to Misawa."
Brock indicated that he was struck by her beauty from the first moment they met.
"I was like, gosh, she's beautiful," said Shawn. "The first time I had a conversation with her, we were both headed to an event to represent the Air Force. I kind of knew right then, but I was pretty shy at first."
Like most tech school romances, this one would also have to face the uncertainty of graduation.
"I graduated way before her," said Shawn. "We kept in touch until she got to Misawa, and once she arrived we got closer. The first time I met her mom, we'd been dating about a year and a half. Her mom made up the room while we were out to dinner. She put rose petals and candles everywhere. There was a pathway of rose petals leading up to a heart. I put her in the middle of the heart, I took the ring out of my back pocket, got down on my knee and proposed."
Finding time to spend together has always been a challenge. The couple spent a significant amount of time working opposite shifts at the Misawa Fire Department. The fire chief had not wanted to risk the potential conflicts involved with placing the young couple on the same shift. It was around Christmas when Shawn received an unexpected summons to the chief's office.
"It's normal for leadership to look at two Airmen who are a couple and say 'oh no, they're not going on the same shift'," said Shawn. "It was like that for about 18 months. It was around Christmas and the chief called me in his office and he said he had a present for me. He told me he was going to put us on the same shift, that we earned it, we earned their respect and that we could handle ourselves accordingly in a professional environment."
It was not long after that the department presented another opportunity to help nurture the Airmen's young love.
"We received the deployment notification at the same time," said Shawn. "We were sitting in bed watching a movie on our off day and my phone rang. The call was from our training manager, he was offering to deploy us together. I asked Hillary and she said it was up to me, so I told him we wanted to go."
On May 15, the Brocks celebrated their first wedding anniversary here at their deployed location. The day was little different from any other, save for a small gift exchange after morning roll call and cake in the evening.
"I feel very fortunate," said Hillary. "Being able to spend our first anniversary together and not being apart was a positive experience. It was definitely memorable. Our department arranged for us to have a cake, and they really went out of their way to make us feel comfortable."
Though they spend their days working at different stations and their nights living in separate quarters, the Brocks continue to relish the opportunity to deploy together. They use their time apart to work on bettering themselves as individuals and as firefighters.
"Their professionalism shines, and both are very knowledgeable and have great work ethics," said Master Sgt. Scott Beckham, the assistant chief of operations for A-shift. "They have the same goals in mind. They're able to compartmentalize their marriage from their professional duties. We know they're married, but an outsider to our department would have no idea. I'm glad to have them both on my shift. They don't let any of the outside influences come in the way of getting the mission done."