"After 30 years of service, we’re excited to start our 60 years of leave." Sgt. Maj Holly Prafke
Does happily ever after really happen to drill instructors? It does if they marry each other.
After 30 years of service in the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Holly Prafke and her husband Sgt. Maj. Brad Prafke retired in a joint retirement ceremony this summer.
Which is a beautiful thing. But it was even more beautiful knowing that they had been married to each other for 26 years.
At a time when we know that female service members and dual military couples experience significantly higher rates of divorce than their male and civilian counterparts, the idea that two people can stay together so long through so much gives a person cause to hope.
So I contacted Holly Prafke to find out what their secrets to a happy dual military marriage might be. Here are Holly’s top ten:
1.Marry your best friend and your drinking buddy. “I tell people you gotta marry your best friend and your drinking buddy,” said Holly. “I wasn’t marrying someone who wanted to have babies and make me a housewife. We got married so we could stay together because we were best friends.”
2.Marry AFTER your first enlistment. When they decided to get married, Holly and Brad were 23 and 22 years old. They each had invested three years into a career they both liked. As a sergeant major, Holly saw too many young military members get married before they had their careers established. “Get your career underway and then bring a family into it,” said Holly. “Get your career started and THEN start your family.”
3. Tell me what you don’t want. Holly says that she and Brad never had to talk about cheating on each other because that wasn’t an option. But before they tied the knot, they talked. A lot.
“We talked about duty stations and geographical locations, long term goals and short term goals,” said Holly. “We liked each others hobbies so I talked horses and he talked cars. College wasn't important to each other and we were not really interested in returning to our home of record... I don't make breakfast either.”
4. Work on the marriage not each other. Before they headed to the drill field, Holly and Brad heard a lot of stories about how that tour was hell on a marriage. So they decided to take a CREDO class through the Chaplain’s office. CREDO taught them how they needed to work on their marriage and not to try to change each other. It also taught them not to blame each other or call names. “He has never been an idiot, so we have stayed away from name calling or mocking the other,” said Holly.
5. Don’t have children. “Truth be told, (having) no children helped too,” said Holly. A lot of people disagree with that. Yet neither Holly nor Brad wanted kids and they discussed that before they got married. When Brad asked what Holly would do if she ever got pregnant, she told him that he would get to take the baby and go home and she would stay in the Marine Corps. ‘Nuff said.
6. Mentor each other. Even though they have different leadership styles, mentoring came naturally to Holly and Brad. “We did talk about issues together during our career. We complained to each other and asked for help too,” said Holly.
While they did not always agree about the right course of action, they both found that discussing the situation helped them think it through.
7. Choose duty stations where you can stay together. Holly was ten when she decided to become a Marine. Her resolve didn't waver. “He knew going into the marriage that the Marine Corps was going to be my life for at least 20 years,” said Holly. “He never tried to talk me out of it. I didn't really talk him into his career, he re-enlisted to stay with me and I did the same. Again and again."
So instead of asking their monitors for a particular job or duty station, they always asked what was available where they could be together. “We didn’t care what duty station we went to. We only wanted to be together,” said Holly.
8. Work as a team. Each of the partners has brought different strengths to the marriage. “I am good with paperwork and filing, so I have helped with that," said Holly. "We have organized parades and ceremonies together, organized tool rooms and office spaces, been drivers and A-drivers, been through schools together and been study partners( DI School, NCO School and 1stSgt School) That alone has made us a good team."
9. Live on sergeant’s pay. Getting your finances in order isn't easy for anyone, but it is a key skill for Holly and Brad. By the time they were married three years, Holly and Brad were sergeants. Certain officers they worked for coached them to start thinking about money through the lens of their own retirement--which seemed a long time away.
Yet when the Prafke’s were making a major purpose, they got into the habit of asking each other, “What will this do for me in retirement? Is it a want or a need?”
They started their financial fitness with savings bonds bought at boot camp. Then life insurance. Then they cashed their savings bonds and put them into mutual funds. As they got promoted, they kept living on sergeant’s pay and investing the rest. They bought real estate, IRAs, CDs.
“We got into TSP as soon as it started, said Holly. “We did not have a lot of money at that time so we did as little as we could. Then with promotions we added to the percentage and with combat we would max it out. TSP was a great thing for us.”
The Prafke’s original goal was to retire at 20 and never have to work again. Instead, they were able to retire at 30 and never have to work again.
10. Don’t lose track of your spirituality. When Holly was running convoys through Iraq and Afghanistan, she would pray before she headed outside the wire. She would tell her guys, “If you don’t believe in the Lord you better believe in something to get through this.”
Although Holly knows that plenty of agnostics and atheists are in the military, she says that spirituality has been an important part of their marriage.
“The church has helped us through our separations and hard times,” said Holly. "The Lord has blessed us with several deployment return and reunions that we are thankful for.”
Now that they have retired, Holly describes her day as “living life large.” She told me, “Everything we worked for is right here on our 12 acres—the Prafke farm.”
The Prafkes are into gardening now and raising their three horses.
“We have had hard times and we have supported each other,” said Holly. “Knowing you have a friend, on your side all the time, makes the marriage successful and life easier.”