FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 25, 2015) — During a time of year when families look forward to being together, at least one couple here is contemplating separation.
Sergeants 1st Class Roddue and Shandra Hamilton are enrolled in the Married Army Couples Program, a means to help espoused Soldiers get stationed together while they serve. Recently, they have wrestled with a permanent change of station that is likely to occur for Roddue, who was selected for master sergeant earlier this year and is due for rotation. His wife also made the promotion list but does not have sufficient time to warrant receiving orders to relocate with her husband.
In light of the pending move, the Hamiltons will tell you the MACP is not perfect and requires active management and communication to achieve agreeable results.
“This is a constant source of friction for us,” said Roddue, assigned to the 2nd Staff and Faculty, 71st Student Support Battalion, Army Logistics University. “I’ve deferred and asked her what she wants to do. She’s taken the lead on the last couple (PCS moves) and made the sacrifices so I’m willing to duplicate, do whatever I have to do to stay with my wife.”
In a nutshell, military members who choose to marry one another face challenging unions while those with only one spouse serving do not. These include the possibility assignments may not be concurrent and some locations may have openings for one military occupational specialty but not the other. The inclusion of children and MOS-specific training requirements can complicate matters further.
In addition, efforts to keep couples together could have the effect of benefiting one career at the expense of the other. Despite those issues, about 80 percent of the roughly 20,000 MACP couples are jointly domiciled, according to the www.About.com website.
The Hamiltons, married a little more than a year, vigorously deliberated career choices even before enrolling in the MACP. The childless couple met about eight years ago when Roddue was assigned to Fort Stewart, Ga., and Shandra was a recruiter in Jacksonville, Fla. They endured the rigors of a long-distance relationship (to include deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan on different rotations) until Shandra accepted an assignment for drill sergeant duty at Fort Jackson, S.C. Her husband was there already working in the same capacity. The human resources specialist did so knowing it could have an adverse effect on her career.
“Although it was a great opportunity — I could gain leadership skills and things like that — I could fall behind my peers in the career field because I was on recruiter duty for three years,” said the Soldier assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 23rd Quartermaster Brigade, noting recruiter and drill sergeant duties are almost interchangeable in terms of promotional value. “Now, I’m going to spend another two years as a drill sergeant” while her cohorts were securing positions on the normal path of career progression.
The Hamiltons spent about one year together at Fort Jackson as a married couple, not to mention the fact being “on the trail” — lingo for drill sergeant duty — meant their actual time was compressed due to the 12-18-hour workdays required of those who indoctrinate Soldiers. On top of that, Roddue, who had been on the trail a year when Shandra arrived, fulfilled his two-year drill sergeant commitment and departed for Fort Lee in August of 2014 — without his wife, who was nearly 10 months from fulfilling hers. His arrival here set the stage for yet another period of phone calls and weekend trips, although there is a bit of a dispute as to who visited who more often, said Roddue.
“To let her tell it, I never came down to visit her,” he said with a subtle laugh. Shandra also came up to visit him, sometimes riding the bus or carpooling, added Roddue.
During the frequent traveling back and forth, Shandra was working the phones of her assignments manager in an effort to secure a relocation to join her husband at Fort Lee. One obstacle stood out: there are only a limited number of human resource positions available for her MOS and grade. “Her branch worked with her until she was finally given the opportunity to come here,” said Roddue.
Shandra arrived in May, gaining an assignment in the 23rd QM Bde.’s S-1 shop.
The reunion is likely to be short-lived, however, because Roddue has been on-station for more than a year. Shandra said there is the possibility she will stay longer while her husband moves on to the next assignment, and even when it’s time to move, her choices may be few.
“Right now, my options are to stay here or take an assignment at a military entrance processing station or someplace where there are no installations close by to which he can be assigned,” the Hattiesburg, Miss., native said. “Either he’s going to have to sacrifice a great opportunity to stay here and be with me or make a choice and take a job that’s going to help his career.”
The prospect of making difficult decisions is nothing new to the Hamiltons and one faced by thousands every year. The program to keep people together will forever be fraught with the needs of the couple versus those of the Army, said Roddue.
“It’s always going to be an issue for married couples,” said the 36-year-old native of Ocala, Fla. “It’s a matter of whether the married couple has a strong enough bond to deal with the separation piece.”
Each Hamilton said their bond is sufficiently strong to weather the storms of separation and the winds of uncertainty, but is there a point in which being apart is not an option or family well-being is most important? Couples all over the world may have to ponder that question at one time or another, factoring family obligations in the face of a culture that places duty first and foremost. For Shandra, a fast-tracker with only 11 years of service with an excellent opportunity to reach sergeant major, a decision to walk away from it all to preserve family is a no-brainer.
“I would give it up,” she said, confidently. “Even the Army says ‘family first.’ I do believe the Army does its best to take care of Soldiers, but the family truly isn’t first all the time. At some point, you do have to put your family first.”
Her husband is willing to do the same. “I enjoy being a Soldier,” said the 13-year careerist who also has an excellent chance to reach E-9, “but if the friction got to the point where we couldn’t get past the problem, and I needed to rejoin the civilian sector in order to provide for my family, I would walk away.”
Roddue said couples are obliged to extensively discuss any decision that might impact the relationship or disrupt the family dynamic.
“You have to support each other’s decision, respect each other’s decision, and over the past three or four years, I’ve learned this: sit down, talk it over and come to a mutual agreement prior to pulling the trigger. If there is no mutual agreement, it will be a source of frustration and friction in a relationship. Communication is most important.”
Chandra, forever the practical thinker, said her advice to couples is get married for the right reason and “not just to be together.” She added couples should expect to sacrifice for the other person and to expect change. “We can agree on something and have it all planned out,” she said, “but if one detail changes, it could make the decision more difficult or force us to rethink it.”
The Hamiltons are still mulling the decision they will make when Roddue receives permanent change of station orders that are expected in the near future.
Photo credit: Sgts. 1st Class Roddue and Shandra Hamilton, enrolled in the Married Army Couples Program, face numerous challenges in their efforts to achieve joint domicile and fulfill the requirements of their career fields. Roddue is assigned to the 2nd Staff and Faculty, 71st Student Support Battalion, Army Logistics University. Shandra is a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 23rd Quartermaster Brigade. They have been married 13 months. (U.S. Army photo by Anthony T. Bell)