Face of Defense: Couple Travels Parallel Army Career Paths
By Army Maj. Dave Olson
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq, Aug. 22, 2008 Two Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers are the logistics staff officers for their respective brigade combat teams. While they serve their country in different locations, they have worked together as a team during the last 10 years.
Army Majs. Dennis and Lesley Ortiz are reunited at Victory Base Complex in Baghdad on April 30, 2008. The Ortizes were married May 29, 1999, and have a 14-month old son, Dennis Jr., who stays with Lesley's mother while the military couple is deployed. Photo courtesy of Army Maj. Dennis Ortiz, Multinational Division Baghdad
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Majs. Lesley and Dennis Ortiz, assigned to the 4th Infantry Division and deployed to Multinational Division Baghdad, developed and fostered a loving relationship while simultaneously serving parallel military careers by working together and communicating effectively.
Lesley, assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team in February, deployed to Baghdad in March, and her husband, Dennis, joined the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in May at Forward Operating Base War Eagle, Iraq.
The Ortizes began a parallel career track from the beginning. They signed contracts to join the ROTC program on the same day during their junior year at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., where he majored in mathematics and she studied English and education, Lesley said.
“I met him at a football game, and we became inseparable,” she said. The ROTC cadets alternated as ushers and color guards at the football games, she added.
After the pair graduated and received their commissions as second lieutenants in the Army, they attended their Officers Basic Courses in 1997. Lesley entered the Transportation Corps and attended her course at Fort Eustis, Va., while Dennis traveled to Fort Lee, Va., to complete his quartermaster officer course.
Their careers continued to parallel each other at their first duty assignments at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The Army assigned them to the same brigade, but they served in different battalions, said Dennis, who hails from Augusta, Ga.
“We were platoon leaders, executive officers, battalion staff officers and company commanders at the same time,” Lesley said.
During this time, the couple continued to communicate and their relationship blossomed and grew stronger, explained Lesley, an Atlanta native. They made it official by getting married May 29, 1999.
“Being with another person in the military, we both had a common understanding how things went, and with not rushing into starting a family, we were able to adjust [to deployments] a lot easier in the early years,” she said.
Lesley said the deployments made her realize that during their marriage, they were going to have to focus on balancing their time apart. They both realized there may come a time when they, as a military couple, would be separated due to their careers and, as a result, would have to work through the challenges, she explained.
At that moment, Lesley and Dennis stopped everything to map out a 10-year plan, she explained.
In the time that followed, they attended the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course at Fort Lee, Va., and the Combined Armed Services Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., together in 2001.
When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that same year, the military couple’s relationship changed forever.
Dennis and Lesley were roommates during the CAS3 course. They were on lockdown due to the attacks, and even after completing their schooling could not leave the post for several days. Lesley, who is a third-generation soldier, explained that the way the U.S. military does business has changed because the nation is at war.
Busier than ever with the new challenges of deploying to war, the couple focused on how they were going to manage their lives and work together as a team.
Lesley and Dennis said they love to plan, so they both adjusted their original 10-year plans, she explained.
Those plans brought them to Fort Hood, Texas.
Dennis deployed as the company commander of a forward support company with the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 near Tikrit. Lesley commanded the 297th Cargo Transfer Company, 180th Transportation Battalion, 64th Corps Support Group, 13th Corps Support Command. Her company deployed simultaneously to Cuba, Iraq and Kuwait, and her teams covered operations at 12 different logistical bases in Kuwait and Iraq during the initial Operation Iraqi Freedom rotation. During the next deployment, she pushed two platoons to Iraq in December 2004 and one platoon to Afghanistan in 2005.
After three years at Fort Hood, both received orders for 3rd Army at Fort McPherson, Ga., where they worked in the logistics section of the same headquarters.
“We worked together as a team, and it worked out very, very well,” she remarked.
Then one day, Lesley and Dennis’ lives would again be forever changed – this time when their son, Dennis Jr., was born in May 2007. The baby, who has started walking since Lesley and Dennis deployed, caused the military couple to review their plans yet again and make changes.
Lesley’s mother, Wilma Sims, takes good care of Dennis Jr. while his parents serve their country in Iraq. It is the first time, Lesley said, that she has ever had to rely solely on her parents, but she said her mother is doing a great job providing for her only grandson.
“I understand love in a different way than the way I did before,” she explained. “I understand loving my parents, loving my spouse; but the love for a child – it’s unconditional; it’s awesome! It inspires you to go above and beyond anything you ever expected.”
Dennis said that he also looks forward to redeploying, returning to family, his son and his home at Fort Hood, especially since he deployed nearly five months before Lesley.
“We have a 14-month-old boy, and I have been deployed for nine months, so I miss my son and haven’t had a lot of time to be with him,” Dennis explained.
Dennis returned to the 4th Infantry Division in March 2007, and Lesley reported to the 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, in July 2007.
Dennis deployed to Iraq with the division logistics section in October as the liaison officer to 1st Cavalry Division. Lesley transferred to the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team and deployed to Iraq as the brigade’s logistics officer in March.
Dennis acknowledged that as both officers develop in their careers, it will be harder to continue to be stationed together.
“So far, the Army has been good at keeping us together,” he explained. “Even with this deployment, we were both in [Iraq] within a few months of each other and will redeploy back to the States within a few months of each other.”
“This has been a tough deployment,” Lesley said. “Leaving my baby was the hardest thing I did for this deployment. This has been one of our toughest years in the military – one of the toughest years, period.”
Both love to travel, Dennis said, and the couple has traveled to several renowned spots, from Paris to New York, where they took the opportunity to be tourists, eat out, catch a show, go to sporting events and attend the theater. They also love to cook together, added Lesley, who calls her husband her best friend.
“The only time we fight is over the kitchen,” she joked.
He makes the best lasagna, she said, and while she cooks the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, he cooks a Latin-style Christmas dinner with roasted pork and pastilles smeared with yucca paste wrapped in banana leaves.
“We are planning our next 10 years,” she added. “We’re looking at retirement homes. We’re looking where we want to retire.”
Lesley said she encourages military couples to work at their relationship as a team, and that she constantly looks for the little thing she can do today to make her marriage stronger.
Lesley said that she believes that if today’s military couples don’t have friendship established first, there are going to be difficulties in both their relationship and their military careers.
“Everyone knows that marriage is a big commitment,” she said. “No matter how big you think it is, it’s bigger than that.”
(Army Maj. Dave Olson serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office. Army Sgt. Zachary Mott contributed to this story.)