March Air Reserve Base, Calif. --
Military couples and their family members face unique challenges on a regular basis. Those range from problems during separations due to temporary duty assignments or deployments to finding military healthcare when there is not military treatment facility nearby. Those challenges can be managed better when both military members work through them together.
Master Sgt. Apphia Gomes, 336th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, met her husband, Tech. Sgt. Brandon Gomes, 752nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, in 2009 while working on base. Six months later, she noticed he was hanging around the aircraft when she was there, although he didn’t need to be. At that time she was a Senior Airman and he was a Staff Sgt.
“I was loud and outgoing and he was shy,” Apphia said. “We started talking.”
The two deployed together to Turkey near the end of 2010 but worked different shifts, which made it difficult to get to know each other unless they were on the same flight, but they hung out when their schedules matched.
She was deployed a little more than four months and he just two months.
“Once I left, we could talk to each other more,” Brandon said. “Now that we weren’t together any more, we realized how much we enjoyed each other and missed each other,” he said.
Fast forward to September 2012. That’s when he proposed to her on the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier.
Life since then has been a whirlwind for the military couple, who now have two children, Charlotte 6, and Cameron 3.
One of the biggest challenges they face are during deployments. She has had two and he is getting ready to leave on his third.
“I don’t have any family around here, and her sister is in Valencia and works full time,” Brandon said. “I’m an Air Reserve Technician, so my supervisors let me adjust my duty schedule while she is deployed. My parents also come down to help from northern California.”
“When he was deployed, Cameron was colicky, and Charlotte had just turned three. All of a sudden you become this single parent,” Apphia said.
Working part time, she needs at least seven to eight days a month for training, which barely maintains her currency as a boom operator, she said. Although she works an average of three to four days a week, while the kids are in daycare, being part time does make things easier when he deploys.
Their scheduling process starts a couple of months before a deployment. Before she leaves, she writes on a calendar when people are coming to help and for how long, to make sure he is covered. They reach out to all of their family.
“But, it’s ok because that’s what we signed up for,” she said. “We are really lucky because our squadrons understand it and try to take care of us.”
There was one scare while he was on a temporary duty assignment and Cameron, who was 13 months old then, had to be hospitalized. With no family in the area and time of the essence, Apphia turned to her military family.
“I made an emergency phone call to one of my best friends, Maj. Kim Link, 336th Air Refueling Squadron, who lives nearby. She saved my life,” Apphia said. “She’s a mom too and a TR (traditional reservist), so she gets it, and our daughters are close. I was on my way to the hospital and was able to drop Charlotte off with her, where Charlotte stayed a couple of days until Brandon’s dad came down to help.”
Brandon said he “was a little paranoid when she was going to urgent care,” but when he learned his son was being admitted to hospital, he knew he had to get home. Fortunately, he was only in Arizona, and his commander authorized him to return home early on a commercial flight, he said.
Currently the kids are out of school for the summer, so they decided he would work swing shift, allowing her to work days.
“She needs to be home at 1:30 so I can be at work by 2,” he said. “Babysitters cost a lot, so neighbors help when needed.”
When comparing her life to military civilian spouses, Apphia said civilian spouses are lucky that they don’t have a (military) scheduling conflict, but are unlucky in that they don’t get to see the world like those who are both military.
“I can relate to the TDY/deployment stories and locations, and can attest to and add to the conversation because I have been there,” she said. “There is a mutual understanding and respect.”
Apphia and Brandon have each served in the military for 16 years. So how does it work, military married to military?
“We go out of our way for each other and lean on each other,” Apphia said. “We ask other military families how they make it work.”
Charlotte is tough, but during deployments she has had some rough days in school, acting out, Apphia said.
“She is a momma’s girl, and I was very lucky that I could call one of my other mommy friends (when I was deployed) who came over. Charlotte needed that one-on-one female love and attention. All kids need that one-on-one time,” Apphia said.
Brandon deploys the beginning of November for four months. They used to be able to distract Cameron during deployments, with bubbles, Mickey Mouse and tossing him in the air, but this time may be more difficult for Cameron because he is older now, Brandon said.
“Me and Cameron are pretty attached,” Brandon said. “It will be interesting to see how he does.”
The family is scheduled to participate in a pre-deployment Yellow Ribbon event to help them all work through the process.