On Friday nights at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, 16 lieutenants would meet for fun and games. For one of them, a special night there would change his life.
“We would go to the officers’ club and play a lot of crud,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Coleman, 92nd Operations Support Squadron commander. “I just remember one night as I was playing, I saw her over at the scoreboard, keeping score and I kept noticing her.”
After reaching his ‘three strikes and you’re out,’ during the game of crud. Matt decided to walk over and talk to her.
For Lt. Col. Carrie Coleman, 92nd Mission Support Group deputy commander, the young lady that he had talked to, MacDill was her first duty station out of training. For Matt, it was a temporary assignment while on casual status waiting for his pilot training class to start.
A year later, March 29, 1999, the two were married. The ensuing 17 years have taught them much about what it takes to be a married couple with both spouses in the military.
“Both being active duty, it makes things a lot more challenging,” Matt said. “We joke that we have to have a scheduling meeting every morning, looking at the daily and weekly calendar, who takes the kids to a particular event, what conflicts we have. It’s the constant struggle of who can take care of the kids and give them the attention they deserve.”
Both partners agree that communication, planning and resilience are keys to keeping a mil-to-mil marriage working in environments where their time and attention are in high demand.
“I hate to use an Air Force word, but resilience is important because not everything goes to plan,” Matt said. “You can plan all you want, but that plan isn’t always going to work. There will be difficulties, you just have to be resilient and have a support network.”
Deployments, for example, can be stressful for a single airman. And for mil-to-mil families, it can seem nearly impossible without the support of family, friends, co-workers and supportive leadership.
“Carrie was given seven days’ notice for a 365 (-day deployment) and it was a scramble to get her mother here,” Matthew said. “I would not have been able to get through that year if it were not for her mother’s help.”
Both sides of the family have provided support to the Colemans when one or the other would get deployed. Friends have always been reliable to assist the Colemans when unexpected or short term things happened, Matthew and Caroline said they are continuously grateful for their leadership’s support of them.
“Where we are now would not be possible without the support of our leadership,” Carrie said. “There is an understanding of what we bring to the table, how we can still contribute and be a part of things without being given a special break.”
“There are no questions or doubts,” Matt said. “The challenges we have had with deployments and other duties have forced us to be strong.”
Base amenities such as the Teen Center, Youth Center, Child Development Center and more have provided helpful services to support and nurture military families, of which the Colemans said they make sure to take advantage of.
“We realize that mil-to-mil doesn’t always work all the time. We’ve been very blessed in the Air Force. The dynamics of our situation allow it work,” Carrie said.