JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
From the U.S. Marine Corps to the Alaska Air National Guard personnel specialists they are today, two master sergeants assigned to the 176th Force Support Flight at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson have taken on one of the biggest challenges of all by being dual-military spouses.
Master Sgt. Jessica Deters, 176th FSF installation personnel readiness specialist, and Master Sgt. Franz Deters, 176th FSF sustainment services superintendent, met when they were both transitioning out of the Marine Corps.
“I saw her in passing, and I saw her again at the Marine Corps birthday, so I was in full regalia,” Franz said. “Out of nowhere, the girl I thought was the prettiest person I'd seen comes up to me and says, ‘Happy birthday, Marine.’ I didn’t know how a civilian would know about that, but she was playing coy and wasn’t going to tell me she was a Marine as well. I saw her a couple weeks later, and I made a big jerk out of myself.”
Jessica laughed as she remembered.
Before the Deters would meet again, they would both join the ANG as security forces.
“About two and a half years later, I got to the security forces squadron,” Franz said. “I walked in on my second or third day of work, and I saw Jessica, and I was like, ‘No way, she works here? I love this job.’ Any time she was around, I tried to be the best cop and impress her. I didn’t impress her, but I impressed her boss. Then I was hired to be a training noncommissioned officer where she worked. I thought, ‘Now it's just a matter of time.’”
Since their marriage in February 2012, the Deters have learned to overcome challenges that come with being dual-military spouses.
“When I saw an opportunity to become a superintendent, I applied for the same office my wife works in,” Franz said. “It is difficult because I'm a superintendent, so we have a lot of closed-door meetings where we talk about everybody. We have to be strong enough that people know when we're working together we are one. There's a certain amount of trust, but you only get to that point by holding yourself a certain way when your spouse comes up. Whenever my wife comes up in conversation, I openly excuse myself from the conversation.”
Franz said openly supporting his wife can be a challenge because they work in the same squadron.
“It is hard because if she worked in any other squadron, I could be more active in supporting my wife,” Franz said. “But if I do that in our squadron, it looks like favoritism. So you always have to make sure you are supporting, but you can't show any favoritism whatsoever. It can be tough to balance it.”
Another challenge they have had to overcome is balancing work and home life.
“We both have really strong work ethics,” Jessica said. “We like to go home with a sense of completion and accomplishment. Because we both have a strong commitment to getting things done, we have to juggle who is going to make the home front line priority. So military-to-military has its benefits, but it's also a struggle. In the military you have to stay until the mission's done. It's a little hard sometimes.”
For both Deters, the decision to leave the Marine Corps and join the ANG was spurred by their families.
Franz said after his deployment to Iraq his family did not want him to stay in the Marine Corps.
“When I was in Iraq, I got a Purple Heart,” Franz said. “When I was injured, that kind of freaked everybody out back home because they didn’t get enough details.”
Jessica said she also left the Marine Corps for her family, albeit in a different situation.
“Right at the end of my enlistment, I became a single mother,” Jessica said. “Back then you couldn’t reenlist as a single mother. They told me I could either give up rights to my child and reenlist or get out. So I got out.”
After leaving the Marine Corps, both Deters found themselves joining a different.
“I tried about six different civilian jobs, but missed the discipline and structure of the military,” Jessica said. “I found out about the Alaska Air National Guard and wanted a job that had a guaranteed crossover from military to civilian. Here was an opportunity to try a different job, and I could guarantee staying in Alaska and staying close to family that would help support me as a single mom. That was huge for my transition.”
Jessica said the Air Force’s focus on family is another plus.
“They care, they're more understanding when it comes to things like child care, things you have come up or if you need to take time off that may not be the most optimal time for the work center,” Jessica said.
Franz joined the ANG for another reason.
“My family wanted me to do something that wasn't quite so dangerous if I wanted to stay in the military,” Franz said. “So when I got out of the Marines, I went online and looked for a branch of the service that had benefits I liked. Time and time again, it was the ANG. It was just personal testimonies of people. I like it better when I hear people saying good things as opposed to recruiters. That's what sold me.”
After transitioning to the ANG, the Deters still had to overcome the cultural differences from the Marine Corps to the Air Force.
“I think it was probably more of a challenge for me because in the Marine Corps there are very few females,” Jessica said. “So getting used to how I'm working around other females and being able to be a little more open and friendly was a challenge.”
Leadership styles were another cultural difference to overcome.
“One of the biggest cultural differences between the Marines and the Air Force is how you are a leader,” Franz said.
He said in the Air Force he learned how to use transformational leadership.
Even with the challenges, the Deters enjoy the control and flexibility the ANG offers. Guardsmen are given the opportunity to work as active duty or part time.
“Another benefit the ANG gives is staying in the same place for your whole 20 years, so you can really become a subject matter expert at your location,” Franz said.
“It's neat because you're working around the same people for years versus the rotation and new people coming in active duty,” Jessica said. “In the ANG, you could be around the same people for 20 years, so the bonds and connections are stronger.”
Working active duty in the ANG can come with risks.
Early on in their relationship, the Deters hit a challenge active Guard members dread.
They lost their active orders.
“Every year, we expected to get our orders renewed, but they sat us down and told us our orders hadn’t been renewed, so technically we didn’t have a job,” Franz said. “We were completely reliant on the military, but now we had to drop back to part-time status and find jobs.”
The Deters, who had just started dating at the time, had to start working every job they could find.
“It was so stressful,” Franz said. “The first couple weeks we were together were some of the hardest times we've ever had financially, and we haven't forgotten that. We're career ANGs but we still don't have a comfortable mentality that we're going to retire. We feel like we have to prove ourselves every day because we never want to go back to how it was.”
Even with all of the challenges, the Deters enjoy the understanding that comes with military-to-military marriage.
“It’s a bigger deal than you might think,” Franz said. “When you get home and want to vent about how tough it is, civilians are not going to understand and they have to ask for clarification. Having a person who already gets it and has been there is pretty cool.”
Jessica said having someone to talk to about work and who knows what she is talking about is huge.
“With military-to-civilian, there's always a little bit of a language barrier there,” Jessica said. “When they want to vent or have questions or need advice about certain things, they're not going to have the avenue military-to-military does.”
Overall, the Deters said they are glad they made the decision to continue their military careers by joining the ANG.
“It can be stressful, and sometimes I wish we had more people for support, but I think when it’s all over, I am going to be very proud to say I’ve retired in the ANG,” Franz said.