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Love makes the world go ‘round, but more needed for a happy union

Feb. 14, 2018 marks the ninth Valentine’s Day in a dual-military marriage for Army Capts. Jenna Siegert, a family nurse practitioner, and Mike Siegert, chief of clinical operations at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. (Courtesy photo by Rick Escajeda) Feb. 14, 2018 marks the ninth Valentine’s Day in a dual-military marriage for Army Capts. Jenna Siegert, a family nurse practitioner, and Mike Siegert, chief of clinical operations at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. (Courtesy photo by Rick Escajeda)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Jennifer Alexander was an ROTC cadet at Arizona State University working on her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Michael Siegert, an Army veteran studying health care administration, was also an ROTC cadet and the class operations officer. One day in early 2007, Mike needed assistance to manage a weapons range and asked Jenna to help.

“I wanted to work with her,” he said.

Jenna, nervous about the unfamiliar assignment, focused on the military mission and didn’t notice Mike’s romantic interest. “I thought she was attractive and smart,” Mike said. When he asked her to meet him for dinner and a movie, Jenna assumed it was a group get-together with friends they had in common.

“When I showed up and saw it was just him, I was a little startled,” she said. “But we clicked right away. I was drawn to his sense of humor, intelligence, and rugged good looks.”

Jenna and Mike quickly became a couple. (Dating was allowed, they say, because they were in the same class.) When they graduated in 2007 with Army commissions, they were serious enough about a future together to both ask for assignments in El Paso, Texas. Jenna went to William Beaumont Army Medical Center (WBAMC). Mike was assigned to a cavalry division at nearby Fort Bliss.

“We continued courting, if you will,” Jenna said, laughing. They got married in April 2009. Today, Capt. Jenna Siegert is a family nurse practitioner, and Capt. Mike Siegert is chief of clinical operations at WBAMC. Feb. 14 marks the ninth year they’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day in a dual-military marriage.

About 12.3 percent of active-duty married service members are in dual-service unions, according to the latest Department of Defense statistics. The Air Force has the most, 19.4 percent; followed by the Navy, 11.5 percent; Army, 9.1 percent; and Marine Corps, 8.9 percent.

“The demands of military service can be difficult,” said Army Maj. Aimee Ruscio, a licensed clinical psychologist and clinical psychology subject matter expert at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence.

“Often times there’s high operational tempo, long work hours, and inflexible schedules,” Ruscio said. “When both members of the couple are in that situation, it can be very challenging.”

Also, military relationships are often complicated further by deployments, remote assignments, and other geographic separations, said Ruscio, who spent almost a year counseling service members at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

A month after the Siegerts got married, Mike was deployed to Iraq for 12 months. Four years later, Jenna deployed to Afghanistan. Five months after her return, they spent another year apart. Jenna moved to Maryland for the first of two years in a master’s degree program at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Mike went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for the first of two years in the Army Baylor dual master’s program in health administration and business. The couple’s son, Ethan, who’s now 3, was born while his parents were in grad school. Mike joined Jenna in Maryland for his second-year residency at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

Some couples report feeling more connected after separations, Ruscio said. “The time apart gives both people a chance to grow as individuals before coming back together. Separations can maintain a sense of vibrancy in the relationship that you may not get if you’re always together and your experiences are all the same.”

Also, there are benefits to both partners being in uniform. “When you have two people who have a strong connection to service or a commitment to something greater than themselves, it can be a source of strength in a relationship,” Ruscio said. “Shared experiences can be helpful from the perspective of partner support. Empathy becomes really easy. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I really do get it.’”

With the same military branch, rank, and general career field, the Siegerts have advantages other dual-military marriages may not. “The most important thing is us as a couple, not my career,” Mike said. “At this point, I’ll do whatever Jenna wants us to do.”

Jenna added, “As long as we’re able to stay together as a family, I think we’d both absolutely like to be in the military until retirement.”

Ruscio offers these tips for all couples striving to keep their relationship strong:

  • Express your fondness and admiration frequently. “Humans are constantly scanning for what’s wrong because that helps us to survive,” Ruscio said. “But in the case of your partner, you really want to pay attention to what’s good, and communicate it regularly.”
  • Be aware of making and accepting bids for attention, including physical affection.
  • Learn how to have difficult conversations. “If I’m in an argument, the top level is anger, but underneath that anger are a lot of vulnerable emotions such as fear and insecurity,” Ruscio said. “If you’re communicating anger, you get anger back. But if you can risk communicating some of the vulnerable emotions, you’re more likely to get a connected response.”

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