Military Marriages Work Through Distance and Deployment

Serena Runyan

Many students make sacrifices to be in long-distance relationships when they come to school. But the distance becomes very difficult to maintain when the relationship turns into marriage, and their spouse is scheduled for deployment in military service.
Senior Lea Baker is recently married to her high school sweetheart, and after three and half years of a long-distance relationship through college, is finishing her last semester in San Diego to be with her husband. This is a welcomed change to the separation they’ve worked with for a long time. Even before college, when Baker and her husband began dating in high school, they had to work over a distance, as they lived in two different towns.
The two still haven’t closed the distance gap they’ve worked with for years, and Baker’s husband is due to deploy in the upcoming months. So while her husband’s military occupation still doesn’t allow the two of them a regular day-to-day connection, she appreciates the change.
“I don’t get to see him a lot, but its better than we’ve ever had,” she said.
Senior Sarah Schaefer is another student married to a member of the military. After their wedding in December, she now resides outside of Seattle. She recently finished her thesis for an environmental sociology major; she plans on coming back before long.
“My husband deploys in about a month, and then I’m probably going to go back to Walla Walla,” she said.
Of course, keeping up a long-distance relationship is difficult, especially in college years.
“I always say that people who say distance makes the makes the heart grow fonder haven’t been in a long distance relationship,” said Baker. “I wouldn’t wish distance on anyone.”
Baker, well-known around campus for her annual letter-writing campaign for soldiers, wrote a letter to her then-boyfriend every single day.
“Staying in touch, that was the most important thing,” she said. “We always took it step by step.”
They worked together to maintain a healthy relationship. They communicated well, and even set apart days to bring up anything they weren’t completely happy about.
Baker, after a moment’s thought, said, “I think just knowing that we would be together eventually made it worthwhile to be apart for however long we had to.”
And now that she lives in San Diego, Baker has other adjustments to make for her relationship. In the face of her husband’s inconsistent schedule, she focuses on her own daily routine for grounding.
“I work on my thesis, read and work out every day, and as long as I do those three things I have some sort of sanity and consistency,” she said.
The transition from Whitman to a new place away from her friends hasn’t been easy.
“It’s a little bit of a harder transition than I anticipated,” said Baker. “Leaving the Whitman bubble is pretty hard; everyone at Whitman is really friendly, and I’ve been struggling to find a job and do all the real life stuff.”
College also provides a pretty sound social safety net and routine.
“When you’re at college it’s very easy to meet a group of people quickly. Here it’s been more of a struggle to meet people,” said Baker. She now faces the responsibility of being far more independent. “Now I’m in a world where I can’t write everything down in my planner,” she said.
So in the face of the new challenges that come with leaving Whitman, Baker appreciates having the company of her husband during the transition.
“I’m glad I have the opportunity to do all that while he’s still here, and I have someone to kind of help me out and show me the city,” she said.
Schaefer echoed Baker’s sentiments, noting the support system found at Whitman is unrivaled anywhere else.
“It’s a lot harder when you’re not surrounded by 1,400 other like-minded students trying to be your friend,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it was any different than the transition any other student goes through. I just did it at a different time.”
Though both students miss Whitman life, they are happy with the decisions they made.
“I’m really glad to be here, but I definitely miss Whitman,” said Baker.
And Whitman misses these students as well. A tough part about leaving for Baker was leaving her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta.
“As a chapter we all really miss [Lea],” said junior Olivia Bates, a fellow Theta. “But we know her choice to be gone is more of a life decision and less of a school decision, so we’re sad but we understand.”
And they’ve been good about keeping touch with friends back on Whitman campus.
“Theta’s been wonderful; I’ve been Skyping with my apartment mates and the girls,” said Baker. “Whitman students are very good at keeping in touch.”
Rather surprisingly, neither Baker nor Schaefer found it was too much trouble to finish their senior year off campus. Baker learned of the possibility after talking to Schaefer, as they both found themselves in similar positions.
“It was fairly easy to finish off campus, especially since I was already a non-traditional student,” said Schaefer, who had already transferred credits and started as a Jan-start.
This was doable for both students due to their flexible schedules. Schaefer had finished most all of her classes the semester before, and Baker only had distribution requirements left.
“The reason it was so doable is that all I have left is my science credits, so I’ve been taking that science class here,” said Baker. “And I’m an English major so the thesis isn’t required.”
Both agreed that Whitman made the process fairly painless.
“Whitman actually made it ridiculously easy; I didn’t think it’d be possible at all,” said Baker.
Through the difficulties of long-distance relationships, having a partner in the military and having to leave both school and community at Whitman, Schaefer and Baker can be both happily married and able to finish their degrees.