POPE FIELD, North Carolina --
An Airman walks into a room and happens to conversate with one of only four Army Soldiers who work on base. The Airman, let’s call her Ashley, is from small-town Virginia, was well-liked in high school and serving at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, at the time. The Soldier, let’s call him Justin, grew up in Missouri and could survive on the land longer than most can survive at an all-inclusive resort.
This isn’t the beginning of a joke; it’s the story of how U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ashley Hummer and U.S. Army Master Sgt. Justin Hummer met. While their common tie to the military is one of service and honor, trying to balance a dual-military family is no easy task regardless of the branches.
Ashley is a South Boston, Virginia, native and Halifax High School graduate. She graduated 33rd in her class of well over 300 students. She chose the Air Force after working a few years and has a connection with almost all military branches. One grandfather served in the Marines, another served in the Navy. After joining the Air Force like two of her uncles, it only seemed fitting that she meet and marry someone in the Army. When enlisting, she was under the impression she would be routed to a nursing career, but instead found herself in aircraft electrical and environmental maintenance and is currently stationed at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina.
A star athlete from Clarksdale, Missouri, and a Stewartsville High School graduate, Justin broke school records in track and field and played football and baseball. He has always been fond of competition; it doesn’t matter what he competes for or who he competes with. “I’ll compete at anything just to say I won,” Justin said “I tell my children all the time, ‘your dad is in your life to show you how to lose and to teach you how to be good sports when you lose, because I’ll never let you win at anything.’”
“It’s true though,” Ashley said laughing. “When they do win, it actually makes them happier because they can rub it in…but then he accuses them of cheating.”
With no promising scholarship offers for athletics as he was finishing high school, Justin joined the Army National Guard to help pay for school. “I requested to be relieved of my guard duty to enlist in the Army. I reported my first day at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Sept. 10, 2001,” he explained, the day before the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed our way of life. He currently serves at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Although they were both recently serving as first sergeants, that is where the similarities of the two positions, and respective branches, end. According to Justin, the Army has several layers of leadership between soldiers and first sergeants and the onus to solve soldier problems lie with platoon sergeants and first line supervisors.
If anyone would know the differences, it would be him. He once served as an interim first sergeant for the Air Force while at Cannon AFB as an additional duty. “By the time you’re a senior NCO in the Air Force, you have a great deal of knowledge. Since the Air Force promotes more slowly than the Army, a senior NCO could be a technical sergeant with 15 years of experience.”
“We have two different experiences because our Airmen think it’s okay to come to the first sergeant for most anything, and that’s not the case in the Army,” Ashley explained. “He has 1,300 soldiers under him; I have 300 Airmen under me, but my phone rings way more often.”
Two spouses in two military branches both serving as first sergeants requires a great deal of patience and persistence. “My phone rings at 3 a.m.; his will ring at 5 a.m.,” Ashely explains. “Having that 24-hour on-call requirement makes taking leave so much better when you’re able to.”
The Hummers continue to learn from one another, which is made a little easier considering they are stationed at the same location. “Ashley has a different perspective on a lot of things because, one, she’s my spouse, and two, she’s in a military branch that is different and more structured like a corporation rather than a military force,” Justin said. “We complement each other well. She provides me another perspective. For instance, I don’t always have to approach things with a sharpened object and that it’s okay to show more empathy.”
Ashley agreed, “Having two military branches gives us different perspectives as a person and as a leader. It’s awesome to have so much perspective. The hardest part of a dual military marriage is knowing that at any point we can be separated from each other.”
“He’s literally my best friend so there’s nothing off limits when we talk about work,” Ashley shared. “I learned earlier in my career that I took my emotions home with me. If I was mad at work, then I was mad at home. I’ve gotten better at that, so there is no line that can be crossed about talking shop at home. We just leave names out of it.”
“I’d like people to know that it is possible to have a family with careers you both excel in and still have a life outside of work,” Justin said. “We hunt, we fish, we show dogs – you can still have a life and personal goals.”
Their advice to other dual military spouses is to ensure a solid foundation. “Always have a plan in place and a strong foundation,” Justin suggested “You may be separated, there may be a lack of PCS opportunities, you may be working different shifts. I’d say don’t introduce anything new like pets or kids until you have a good foundation, so you don’t have additional stresses.”
And stresses are what they are looking to avoid once they both leave the military. They hope to buy enough land to be self-sufficient, where they can hunt and fish. With a combined 35 years of military experience, it’s Justin who is likely to retire first. With three children of his own, he is ready to go wherever Ashley’s career goes.
And, not surprisingly, he’s already made that into a competition, “My plans revolve around Ashley. My goal is to win Air Force Spouse of the Year.”
(Harley’s Hope highlights Team Pope Airmen while providing a snapshot into their culture, stereotypes faced, and how their culture plays a role in their personal and professional lives.)