Story by Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaunlee Hostutler
Edited by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity
This post is the first in a series called “Combat Couple” written by Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaunlee Hostutler and her husband, Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler. Shaunlee is a broadcaster on her first tour in Afghanistan as a combat correspondent and Aaron is a photojournalist currently stationed stateside. While the couple and their children have been separated by previous deployments, this is the first time Shaunlee has deployed while Aaron remained in the U.S. Shaunlee and Aaron have agreed to share their experience as an active duty military couple serving with separate services in the public affairs career field.
Fate has a funny way of working things out. At least, that’s what I think. I think it shows up in small ways that, strangely, have had a big impact on my life. Like the time two office doors dictated the rest of my career. If it weren’t for the simple fact that one office door was closed and another one was open, I probably wouldn’t be in the Air Force right now. Let me tell you what happened.
After dropping out of college and moving home to Austin (I couldn’t pay for tuition on my own after a year and a half at Baylor), I had spent a few years bartending. While the job was fun, it was just that – a job. I had always promised myself I wouldn’t settle into a job; I would establish a career in a field that I had genuine passion for. I wanted to be a journalist.
In bartending, there was free booze but no benefits and no health insurance. I had barely enough money to pay bills, feed my dog, buy some ramen noodles and send the rest to family who needed it. And sometimes, there was barely enough for the ramen noodles.
I can’t tell you how creative cooking can get when you’ve got next to nothing in the fridge and your power is cut off.
After two years of cleaning crusted puke and urine from bathroom stalls, being grabbed at by frat boys who couldn’t hold their liquor or control their bladders, and having to force a flirtatious smile all the while (because a sour face makes no money), I was convinced that I had failed. Some friends had graduated from college, others were starting careers. They were moving forward and I was going nowhere.
How would I find a way to finish school, land the perfect job, do what I love, make a good living, and establish world peace before I turned 21? My standards were high and unrealistic at times, but I held onto them.
I determined the easiest way to get to a combat zone and begin my career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist – without having to pour coffee for some editor while scraping together enough money to live – would be to enlist in the military. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?
I went to the first recruiting office I could find. I grew up an Army brat and figured, why the hell not? As luck (or fate) would have it, the Army office was closed that day, but the Air Force recruiter was in his office. From what I hear, it’s usually the other way around. I have never regretted walking into that office.
The life that the Air Force promised seemed to be so much more.
They emphasized education, encouraged independent thinking, and rewarded hard work. Not only did I find that I would be able to deploy, but I could also guarantee a job as a news broadcaster if I could pass a voice audition. I jumped at the chance. Maybe I wouldn’t be the next Eddie Adams right away, but I could go for being the next Christiane Amanpour or Lisa Ling. A few short weeks later, I was on a blue bus, on my way to basic training at what was then called Lackland Air Force Base – the “Gateway to the Air Force” – in San Antonio, Texas.
When I first enlisted, I had no idea how hard it would be to volunteer for a combat deployment. My military training instructor at basic nearly spit his coffee in my face, laughing when I asked during the second week of training how soon would it be before I could get an assignment to Afghanistan. I had to get in country before the war was over, because I knew that even though the war had reached its seven year mark and the nation was preparing to send in a surge, it could end at any moment and I’d miss my chance.
It would be five years before I would finally deploy.
It seemed to me that I was always in the right place at the wrong time. No matter how often I raised my hand to go, there was always a roadblock. I think it was fate’s sense of humor. It wouldn’t be until I stopped waving my hand like a six-year-old with a pressing question that I’d actually be able to go.
I thought it was never going to happen.
I guess that brings me to where I am now. Five years have passed. In the time it took for me to get orders to Afghanistan, I was promoted, got married, moved across the world, was promoted again, had a baby, was tasked for two deployments that were canceled, had another baby, and returned to the States.
Just as my husband, a Marine Corps sergeant, and I were getting settled in at my third duty station and looking to buy a house, he received orders to Afghanistan. And I was staying home with the kids. I wanted to be happy for him. Secretly, I was annoyed.
But life has a funny way of working things out. After all, I am writing to you from Afghanistan. Must be that funny sense of humor fate has again. Call it luck or pure coincidence, but this time his orders were canceled and mine finally stuck. I call it fate. Like I said before, it’s played a role in many of the major moments in my life, including the time an inconsequential little Q-tip lead me to my future husband.
That’s a story for another day.