Dual military families are not unusual in the Army as there are typically several serving at every installation at all levels of leadership. Fort Leonard Wood has its share, but none as unique as three married couples making up nearly 50 percent of the battalion-level commanders here.
Of the six lieutenant colonels, four, James and Christina Cook, Aaron Bohrer and Margaret McGunegle, serve as engineer battalion commanders, while Mandi Bohrer leads a military police battalion and Steven McGunegle serves as an infantry battalion commander.
The Cooks indicated they were not seeking out a military “soul mate” when they were first dating during Engineer Officer Basic Course, as it was called then. But after being stationed in Germany and attending Engineer Captains Career Course together, it worked out.
“It was the right place at the right time,” James Cook, commander, 5th Engineer Battalion, said.
The Bohrers indicated a similar circumstance that brought them together while they were both stationed in Korea. They were both part of a group doing outdoor activities when they met and started dating.
Commanding a battalion brings with it some challenges that each of the couples say they are better able to handle than those not married to peers because their spouse faces similar situations.
“It is rewarding and demanding having a spouse that is a fellow battalion commander on post,” Mandi Bohrer, commander of the 701st Military Police Bn., said. “Having a fellow commander (at home) provides another sounding board outside the chain of command to bounce ideas.”
Christina Cook, commander of 554th Engineer Bn., agreed.
“Everywhere you go you get offered a mentor, a battle buddy,” she said. “We didn’t have to go find someone; it’s already there.”
James Cook added that the Cook family talks about work a lot in the home.
“It’s hard to be in uniform and not bring it to the house,” he said.
All three couples indicated there are challenges to being at this level as a dual military household.
“For a long time we were go, go, go, and we didn’t put our relationship first,” Christina Cook said. “One of the lessons we have learned is we need to put us first.”
“Balancing schedules can be a challenge,” added Steven McGunegle, commander of 2nd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, “but we are both impressed by the support from families, friends and extended families.”
The Cooks spoke of passing in the driveway as one spouse was heading to and the other back from physical training in the mornings. Others mentioned missing time in the evening with the kids. Each found ways to overcome those difficult moments.
“We try to have lunch together at least once a week,” James Cook said.
Mandi Bohrer said as battalion commanders, there are often social events or meetings they attend together where they can “catch up.”
Even with the challenges, the couples look to the positives for their sacrifices.
“Both Margaret and I truly appreciate the opportunity to help craft the next generation of Soldiers for our Army,” Steven McGunegle said.
For the Bohrers, it’s about being an example for other dual-military families.
“Since we both earned the opportunity to command at the battalion level, I think it is a small symbol to others that it is possible to be successful at home and at work,” Mandi Bohrer said.
Christina Cook offered her advice to other families in similar situations saying, “Find the time. Take advantage of the little opportunities you have because you won’t always have them. Eventually, it does get better.”