Post and photos by Julie Weckerlein, guest DoDLive blogger Video by Senior Airman Daniel Burkhardt
On a gray, overcast day in October 2000, I stood off to the side of a giant parade ground in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, watching my then-boyfriend Martin march in unison with his fellow Bundeswehr basic training graduates.
At the time, I was a 19-year-old airman from Cincinnati, Ohio who arrived in Germany just a few months before for my first military assignment to the 86th Airlift Wing public affairs office at Ramstein Air Base. Just a few days earlier, the U.S. Navy’s USS Cole guided-missile destroyer was attacked in Yemen, and the dead and injured were flown in for treatment at nearby Landstuhl Medical Center. I had spent hours on the flight line then, assisting with the media covering the mission there. It was the first major event of my military career, one that really hit home my purpose for serving, and I was proud to be witnessing the first major ceremony of Martin’s own military career. I was so proud of him.
We had met the year before, in 1999, when I was a high school foreign exchange student in Nuremberg. He was the 20-year-old German friend of my exchange partner. The first night we met, I told him that when I returned to the states, I was going to enlist the U.S. Air Force, and that I was going to be stationed in Europe. I didn’t have anything to support this claim, but I just felt it would be true. He told me that was a good thing, because as a young German man, he was obligated through conscription to serve in the German Army in Europe, too.
Perhaps we would end up serving together?
As it turned out, all went exactly as we predicted. I enlisted and got stationed in Germany. Martin joined the Bundeswehr, and while we didn’t serve directly together, we felt like this little NATO couple.
Martin ended up really enjoying his military service, and he extended his contract for two years with the option of extending to 12 years. He eventually became a German tank commander, leading a bunch of men as they trained for reconnaissance missions at his Kaserne (base) in Bavaria.
We both lived and worked at our respective bases, both excelling in our jobs. He was picked up for the German equivalent to officer candidate school, and began his path to a commission while also serving for a time as the German-equivalent to a basic military training instructor.
Meanwhile, I earned several awards within my career field for my work at Ramstein, and in the summer of 2001, received my orders to my next assignment in Italy.
We found ourselves at a crossroads in our relationship. Both of our military careers were taking off, but if we were to follow them, it meant ours would be one very long-distance relationship around the globe. And we didn’t want that. We wanted a marriage and a family. If we wanted to be together, one of us would have to make a sacrifice.
Martin was the one who made the choice.
It wasn’t easy. He ended up submitting his resignation paperwork … and then retracting it … twice. Sometimes, after long conversations and reflection, we felt we could make a marriage and two international military careers work.
But then, as the days passed, as the idea settled in, we felt it wouldn’t work, and a choice had to be made.
Then the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened. Operations at Ramstein Air Base immediately changed tempo as the wing supported those initial missions into Afghanistan. Even Martin’s German unit was called in to support the local U.S. Army bases there in Bavaria as security augmentees.
It was a very uncertain time, but it affirmed for us our decision to marry. Most of all we wanted to be together, to start a family together. So Martin submitted his resignation paperwork once and for all, and we were married on April 6, 2002.
There was no way for me to know then that almost exactly 11 years, I would be standing on the edge of another parade ground watching Martin graduate basic military training again.
But that’s what I’ll be doing on April 12, 2013.
On that day, Martin is scheduled to graduate Air Force basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base.
He is now 34 years old and beginning his career in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He will be an air transportation specialist with the 69th Aerial Port Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base.
And I’m now a 31-year-old mother to our three children. I’m also closing the book on what has been an amazing 13-year career in Air Force public affairs, a career that was only possible because of the loving support of my husband.
It’s come full circle.
After Martin left the Bundeswehr, he was a committed stay-at-home father to our daughter, who was born in Italy. Later, when I got assigned the Pentagon, he became a banker, following his love of finances and numbers. He stayed behind with our daughter when I deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and supported me when I made the decision to leave active duty after nine years, and join the Reserve. He’s always stayed loyal to our commitment to our family, too, becoming a stay-at-home dad again when I got my current job as a federal employee.
Sometime last year, though, we looked around and asked ourselves, “What are we going to do now?”
It was then that Martin decided he’d like to finish up his bachelor’s degree here in the United States, which led to a discussion about how he could achieve that goal.
That conversation led to other conversations which led him to the local Air Force Reserve recruiter.
Now, Martin gets a second-chance at a military career, serving his adopted country. And we couldn’t be more proud of him.
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