Face of Defense: Commando Couple Embraces Army Values
By Michelle Kennedy
Fort Drum Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y., Dec. 20, 2011 Balancing work and personal responsibilities is a challenge for many families, but dual military families face a different set of challenges when dealing with long duty days, deployments and other separations.
The Armstrong family stands outside the 2nd Brigade Combat Team headquarters Nov. 21, 2011. From left, Sgt. 1st Class Everett Armstrong; Devyn, 17; Everett "E.J.," 4; Warrant Officer Julia Armstrong and Trinity, 4. Not pictured: Stephon, 15, who lives in Dallas. Army photo by Michelle Kennedy
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
One Army couple here -- Warrant Officer Julia Armstrong and Sgt. 1st Class Everett Armstrong -- has endured almost 35 years of combined military service, all while raising a family, balancing work schedules and keeping open lines of communication.
Julia Armstrong, who serves as an adjutant general technician for 2nd Brigade Combat Team "Commandos," works down the hall from her husband, who is the brigade's dining facility noncommissioned officer in charge. While working in the same building has its benefits, it hasn't always been easy.
Everett Armstrong who has served in the Army for 20 years, never thought the military was the right choice for him. "The military was always something I loved watching on TV, but I never thought it would be for me," he said.
That was until he figured out the military would be his ticket out of his rough Houston neighborhood and for the family life he desired.
"Growing up, I was adamant about being married," he continued. "I didn't want to be a football star; I just wanted to be a father.”
“I was already ready for the mission that was coming,” he said of his decision to enlist. But, “I think it was hard on my family when I went straight into the military. They had no clue until that recruiter showed up on the doorstep. I was ready to write a new chapter for myself, and I say it turned out great."
Armstrong’s high school graduation was June 6, 1991, and five days later, he was at basic training.
"The military has been very good for me -- I've got my kids, my wife and everything," he said.
He and his wife met in 1996 while he was stationed at Fort Sill, Okla.
"We met on a basketball court, of all places," he said.
That wouldn’t seem strange except, "I'm 6'2" and he's 5'4," and everybody assumes that I'm the basketball player," Julia Armstrong said, laughing. "I'm so not athletic."
Armstrong was not in the Army when she met her husband while dropping her friend off at her job on Fort Sill. She noticed a group of soldiers playing basketball and goofing around. That's when she saw Everett.
Armstrong asked her friend about her future husband, but her friend warned her that he was "short."
"From a distance, 5'4" doesn't look that bad, but when I met him -- he was short," she said. "We exchanged phone numbers, and we talked on the phone every day that week. We had our first date that Friday and we've been inseparable from that point on. We got married six months later (in September 1996)."
Even though it's been almost 16 years since they met, Armstrong still remembers exactly what his wife was wearing.
"I thought she was gorgeous -- in tennis shoes, sweat pants that were a little high because she was so tall, and a big Starter overcoat," he said. "Our first words were, 'Wow, you're short!' and, 'Wow, you're tall!' And we joked from there."
The Armstrongs think it's funny when people don't realize they're married.
"It's hilarious, even now," Julia Armstrong said. "We have the same last name, but even until a couple of months ago, there were people who didn't put the two together that we are married."
Laughing, understanding and communication have helped this Army couple stay strong during their careers.
Nine months after they were married, Julia Armstrong decided to join the Army in May 1997.
"I had been going to school, working two jobs and raising our oldest (son), and it was just too much," she said.
Fifteen years later, she still loves the Army, but she said she's a little scared at what the future may hold if her husband decides to retire.
"He's at that point where he's at the end of the road, and that scares me because I'm so used to us being a dual-military couple," Armstrong said.
The Armstrong family has been fortunate to not have to endure too many separations from each other or from their four children -- Devyn, 17; Stephon, 15; and twins Trinity and Everett Jr., 4.
With the exception of training and his deployment to Iraq from 2003 to 2004, the couple has been able to stay close. The Armstrongs served together during all their assignments, including Korea.
"All of our duty stations have been always been about us being together as a family unit," Julia Armstrong said. "We've always considered our family and the Army equal; if it was good for the Army and it was good for the family, it was good for us."
During their careers, balancing work and family hasn't always been easy, she explained.
"There were times where you question if you're putting the military before your family or vice versa," Armstrong said, adding that over the years, they have learned to share the responsibility equally. "There are so many other factors. I think what works for us is that we communicate."
Each has faced jobs that required long hours and late nights, while the other tended to the children, cooked dinner and cleaned the house.
"I think for us, it just works," Julia Armstrong said. "We tackle things head on. We discuss it and talk about it. There's no time for someone to say 'I don't want to do that,' because it's all about the kids and making sure things are good for them."
Although the couple has mastered the ways of Army life on and off duty, it is still a struggle when it comes to ensuring their children are taken care of. When both have to go to the field, they have to know that the people who watch their children are responsible.
"It takes coordination," she said. "You can't just leave your kids with anyone; you have to have that support system. We don't have family here, so it takes a while to get to know people and trust them with your kids. That's a lot of responsibility to pass on to someone else."
Everett Armstrong agreed. Right now, it's his wife's turn to work late some days, so he picks up the slack at home.
"We're in sync," he said. "I already know what needs to be done, and I know when she's working late. There's no reason for me to call to ask what she needs me to do. I'm already starting the washing, cooking, kids are bathed, so when she gets home all she needs to do is rest."
He added that throughout his career, he has been fortunate to have great assignments.
"At Fort Sill, when I first met my wife, it was pretty rough because I was always in the field or always working," Armstrong said. "As the years progressed, I've bounced around and gotten some excellent jobs where I can cover my own hours."
Julia Armstrong added that she believes a lot of their success throughout the years has to do with the command climate. They've been fortunate to have supportive commands that understood their situation.
"They have to understand that (with us), they're getting two for the price of one," Armstrong said. "There will be times where a kid gets sick, and I have to leave work because he can't.
Working in an environment where people understand that and they support you and they see that you're still part of the team, (you're) an asset and they're getting the best end of the deal makes all the difference."