These Are One Couple's Secrets to Happy Dual Military Marriage

Married Air Force Chief Master Sgts. Brian and Shannon Thomas. (U.S. Air Force/Melody Wolff)
Married Air Force Chief Master Sgts. Brian and Shannon Thomas. (U.S. Air Force/Melody Wolff)

Dual basing struggles. Family balance over deployments. Long absences that are often not in the same cycle. Those are just some of the struggles dual military marriages face.

And it's not just anecdotal stories from couples that says dual military marriage is hard. -The data agrees. Of the about 176,000 married Air Force members, for example, only about 28,000 of them are married to another service member.

Still, some couples, like Chief Master Sgt. Brian Thomas, 319th Air Base Wing command chief, and his wife, Chief Master Sgt. Shannon Thomas, the 69th Maintenance Squadron chief enlisted manager make it work. They have been married for over 15 years, with over 40 years of combined military service between them.

So what is their secret to being a successful military couple?

Brian and Shannon recently discussed how they handled having a relationship, marriage and family while graciously serving their country.

Their story began at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, in 1999.

"We were in the same squadron, and even in the same dorm," said Shannon.

Brian and Shannon explained how they both motivated each other throughout the progression of their careers.

"Seeing Shannon begin as an airman, and progress all the way up to chief is incredibly rare in the Air Force," said Brian. "What I tell young military couples is that it cannot always be about one person. As we have progressed through every rank together, we always celebrated and rooted for each other. It was never a competition between the two of us, and we have always been each other's biggest advocates."

Shannon said she often does her best to be supportive when her husband needed to take a few days or weeks to study for the next promotion test, and vice versa.

"Throughout our career, if one of us needed to study, the other would take care of the kids," said Shannon. "We would always tell each other that we appreciate each other. He is my number one fan."

But it hasn't always been perfect. Because of the nature of the military, some jobs consist of more deployments and special assignments, temporarily taking spouses away from their loved ones.

"There were times in our marriage where my job took me away a lot," said Brian, who explained this stressor impacted their relationship. "Shannon basically told me something needed to change, and we pretty much have this unwritten rule that we don't volunteer for assignments."

Shannon said that open communication where they can talk through concerns and honest opinions has been the best way to maintain a healthy marriage.

Not only was distance a regular stressor, but, there were times when Shannon's work schedule and time with her children felt off balance.

"There were times when I needed to remind myself my work would be there the next day, and I needed to go home and spend time with my kids," said Shannon. "Our number one value is our children."

Even though there were challenging times, Brian and Shannon reflected on their exciting and amazing careers.

Shannon said one of her favorite memories was watching the impact Brian had on his Airmen.

"Whenever I saw Airmen flock to him, I would just think of how proud I am of him," said Shannon. "I love being around him, so it makes me feel good when I see others wanting to be around him as well."

Brian reminisced on a time when Shannon made an impact on her future labor nurse.

"Shannon helped this nurse with her finances when she was a first sergeant, and funny enough the nurse remembered Shannon and helped her throughout her entire labor," said Brian.

While Brian and Shannon reflected on their careers and marriage, they said they felt both have been successful. Their future plans are to eventually retire in Arizona and begin their own business.

Because of the experiences and adversities they have faced throughout their careers and marriage, the best advice Brian and Shannon could give for a successful marriage in the military is to always have open communication.

"Communication is everything," said Shannon. "As long as we keep talking to each other rather than holding everything in, we stay happy and have a happy marriage."

Military.com contributed to this story.

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