As you probably know, I write Military Romance. So I thought it’d be interesting to get a look at some real-life military romances. My new blog feature From Uniforms to Lingerie will feature interviews with actual military service members and veterans who’ll share their relationship experiences while serving our country. Some of these stories have happy endings. Some of them don’t. But they are real. Make sure you’re following my blog to hear all the stories our service members and veterans have agreed to share.
Today, we’ll hear from a US Army Counterintelligence Officer.
Tell us about your military life…
In which branch did you serve?
US Army. I was one of the first one hundred fourteen women commissioned from ROTC in 1976, and as a Distinguished Military Graduate, was one of the few ROTC grads who actually received our first choice of specialty. We were not placed in the Women’s Army Corps, but directly into the various branches, as WAC was being gradually disbanded.
What did you do?
I was a Counterintelligence (CI) Special Agent officer.
My job entailed a lot of interviews. For me, that meant getting a conversation going, then just listening. I found that people will tell you anything if you don’t emotionally react to it, and I mean very, very personal information.
Over the years, both as a CI agent and in general conversation, I’ve had people feel so comfortable that they told me some truly hair-raising stuff, all because I stayed so calm. It did mean I never, ever got a simple, clean personnel security investigation–everyone decided I was Ann Landers and fessed up to all sorts of stuff. Same thing when running investigative interviews — even when I had to stop people and read them their rights, they still wanted to tell me everything.
One did mention once that I must have been surprised by something he said because my left eyebrow “went all Mr. Spock,” but apparently just letting them talk as though we were just chatting and then drawing out the salient details really works.
It sure made for long interview reports, though.
Describe your typical day.
Military Intelligence (MI) officers didn’t have “typical” days, and CI officers in particular could rarely predict what the next day would bring. For example, as a CI Field Office Commander, I could expect to come in before the rest of the office to ensure nothing from the previous day had fallen through the cracks.
After that I Consulted with my Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) on the day’s duty assignments, if a new issue needed a more experienced CI agent reassigned to it, fielded any phone calls from higher (to keep them off my agents’ backs), read through and signed off on daily reports, reports of Investigation, status reports, etc.
Then I headed out to meet/schmooze/brief the units for whom I was responsible. Every agent in my office had covering agent responsibilities, including me and the NCOIC.
Sometimes I had to track down the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) agents to share information. As I came in their front door, they’d run out the back, in case I was bringing classified info or otherwise sharing some “icky, gray area puzzle stuff.” CID liked their cases simple and straightforward, and Counterintelligence is never, ever simple or straight forward. We learned to put me in the front door and my NCOIC (the faster runner) at their back door to intercept. With terrorism the big thing in Europe at the time, they finally got better.
Tell us about your romantic relationship in the military
Which of you was in the military, you, your partner or both?
Did you meet while serving or was one of you already in the military when you met?
We were both serving.
How did you two meet?
Upon arrival at Fort Huachuca, AZ, I ran into a Second Lieutenant who promptly informed me I was out of uniform.
He was correct; my ROTC-provided uniform hat did not have the gold officer’s band on it, which I bought and sewed on that evening. Turns out he was in the Officer Basic Course ahead of me, and also from Texas, being trained as an Imagery Interpreter officer.
Rodney and I lived a few doors apart in the Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) and occasionally hung out with a group of lieutenants. He knew how to cook about four good dishes, so he’d invite the female officers on our BOQ floor to dinner, then not have to cook for at least a week, as he’d get fed in return. When I showed up, I joined the foodie group, and we all got to know each other fairly well.
At this point had he shown interest in hanging out with just you?
Not just me separately. But that changed the day he got a special package in the mail. Being all excited about it, he wanted to share with someone, but there was literally no one else in the building and he heard me playing my piano. (Yes, I had a baby grand piano in my BOQ room, which was more than big enough for it.) When I answered the door, he excitedly said, “Wanna go shoot my Freon-powered BB machine gun?”
“Oh, hell, yes!” And off we went into the Huachuca Mountains, where we laid waste to paper bags and weeds until we ran out of Freon and BBs.
How did you feel about him at this time? Had there been any romantic interest or was it still just platonic?
All summer, we hung out as good buddies, spending time hiking the Huachuca Mountains, going to Tucson for movies, followed by nachos at the Chelsea Street Pub, and sitting around chatting. But things changed on Labor Day weekend. As we watched the Jerry Lewis marathon, he leaned over and kissed me… softly, gently, a little exploratory. I was surprised at first but returned the kiss. Things progressed from there rather intensely right until the day he graduated and he left for Fort Hood.
How did you feel about this?
I was bummed — discovered real fast I really missed him. Our relationship soon consisted of very expensive long-distance phone calls.
Check out one of our songs: Oh How I Miss You Tonight
One evening, he said the phone calls were killing us both financially, and maybe we should arrange to be posted to the same location — maybe we should get married. I thought that was a very good idea, so instead of moving forward with my upcoming posting to Fort Bragg, NC, I started the process of changing over to Fort Hood.
After a lot of phone calls to MI Branch, I made it to Hood. As officers in the first Combat Electronic Warfare Intelligence (CEWI) Battalion, I was the division Special Security Officer and battalion S-2. He was a platoon leader in the Ground Surveillance Radar and Unattended Ground Sensor company.
How did you feel upon reuniting with Rodney at Fort Hood? Were there butterflies? Was it awkward being together again?
We felt relieved that we were back together and no longer having such huge long-distance phone bills. No butterflies, just passion, and never a speck of awkwardness.
We got married on 19 Feb 1977, one of the first married officer couples in the 2nd Armored Division.
What was your marriage like as service members?
As newlyweds, we were as hot and passionate as any other newlyweds.
Sometimes we were stationed in the same place, and sometimes we were not. On the upside, we had different specialties, so we did not compete for assignments. On the downside, that meant we sometimes had geographically separate assignments, but they rarely lasted all that long.
As time went on, we got thoroughly comfortable with each other, to the point of finishing each other’s sentences, laughing uncontrollably over the tiniest little bit of inside humor, and holding entire conversations using only movie quotes, or a blend of all the languages we both spoke. Other military personnel thought we were speaking in “MI code.” We never told them otherwise.
In what ways is a relationship in the military different than one in civilian life?
How many civilian marriages are subject to sudden deployments into combat zones? That’s a major difference. One or both of us could find ourselves on the tarmac, waiting for transport into one of the world’s more unpleasant locales, on a few hours’ notice. So we had to have plans in place at all times for someone to care for our cats, someone to secure our belongings, which national/veterans’ cemetery we wanted to lie in, which survivors got what, etc. Those plans had to be updated with every change in our lives. It means we have no sympathy for people who think they can wait to write a will. Seen the ugly results too many times, both in military and civilian life.
Are there advantages to military relationships that may not apply to those in civilian life?
We got to travel a lot that we would likely never have done as civilians. By living in overseas locales, we could take trips we could not have afforded from the US. We met government officials and private civilians from other nations we likely would never have met, had we not been in the military.
Because the military posted us to interesting locations, we were able to scuba dive in Italy, sail the Caribbean, ski in six countries, take boat trips up and down several rivers, visit active and dormant volcanoes, visit castles, mansions and Roman fortifications, explore a giant salt mine and several gold mines, see concerts, plays and musicals in classic theaters, attend Renaissance festivals and walk historic battlegrounds.
With both of us serving, Rodney and I understood unit dynamics and personnel relationships that civilian spouses may not, which ensured neither of us was jealous of the time spent with other military personnel, male or female. To this day, my best friend is a guy I met after I was engaged. We clicked as buddies. (My husband is not my best friend – he’s far closer and more intimate than a friend and always shall be.) Both of us have military buddies of the opposite sex, and frankly, they are closer to us than family or any of our civilian friends.
What challenges did you face in your marriage that may not apply to those in civilian life?
The Army did not care if you were married – the needs of the Army superseded everything. When the Army needed one of us in a certain location/assignment, the other might not get an assignment there, so we had a separation. We had a very healthy letter writing thing going, and regular phone calls, so we did okay. Keeping the finances sorted was a bit of effort, but we cooperated on that and never encountered a serious issue.
He’d been taught to cook and clean growing up, so he had no weird notions about what was “women’s work.” We split the household, lawn & garden, and preventive maintenance/repair duties fairly evenly over time.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
After proposing, Rodney invited me to meet his folks at Thanksgiving. I flew into Austin, where he met me. We went to Zale’s and picked out engagement and wedding bands, then went to dinner at a steakhouse. We were even dressed up—me in a dress (I really hate dresses) and he in a new suede jacket, an early Christmas present from his mom.
After a lovely meal, we were the only couple left in that immediate area. Only a woman bussing the adjacent table was in the section.
Rodney reached across the table, took my hand, and looked directly into my eyes. He formally asked me to marry him, even though we already had the understanding (thank you, Ma Bell) and the rings. Of course, I said yes, and he placed the engagement ring on my finger.
Then he smiled and said, “Wow. Isn’t this romantic? We’ve had a nice meal and a lovely bottle of wine, I just proposed, put the ring on your finger, and my elbow’s in the butter.”
Yep. His brand new suede jacket elbow was firmly planted in a butter pat. I broke up laughing, the lady bussing the table almost fell over it laughing, and people peeked around the corner to see what all the hilarity was about.
His mom wasn’t so amused about the permanent stain in that jacket elbow. But for us, butter has become a running joke and part of our romance.
We celebrated our 43rd anniversary on 19 Feb 2020. That’s one long romantic relationship, ranging from military to retired old farts.
And we still think butter is romantic.
Regan Smith is a native Texan from the Panhandle, where her warped sense of humor developed, along with a love for the open sky, music, reading, writing, language and history.
After graduating from West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M) with a Bachelor of Music Education, she was one of the first one hundred fourteen women commissioned into the Army through the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
She’s now an editor and proofreader – aka Conan the Grammarian – a musician and avid reader, who loves traveling in her RV and doing all the driving.
Regan is a member of Canyon Lake Area Writers which has published a small anthology of short stories focused on Canyon Lake.
Title: Check It Out: Tales of Canyon Lake
Click here to purchase your copy