CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Most spouses of active duty military members have to endure the hardship of separation while their loved one is deployed, but one dual active-duty married couple here has the unique opportunity of serving together in the same unit.
Petty Officer 1st Class Chat Rice and Marine Staff Sgt. Jeff Rice, San Diego natives, are currently deployed together with 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Multiple deployments have separated the sailor and Marine for much of their 7-year marriage, but this is the first time the couple has ever been deployed together.
“Having him here is very good for me,” said Chat, 29, of her husband. “I can always go to him if I need someone to talk to, or just hang out and talk about our families and our son.”
The couple met in August 2001 while stationed together in Okinawa, Japan. Then in 2002, Chat received orders to Camp Pendleton, so they maintained a long-distance relationship, she said. While they were still dating, Jeff deployed twice with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. They got married Feb. 8, 2003.
Since they’ve been married, Jeff has deployed five times – this is his eighth deployment altogether – and this is Chat’s second deployment. In 2008, the only year Jeff wasn’t deployed during their marriage, the couple’s first son, Seth, was born.
“As you can see, it took us a while to have a child because he’s always deployed,” joked Chat of Jeff’s multiple deployments.
During their current deployment, Jeff and Chat are fortunate enough to work in the same compound, but have very different jobs within 1st MLG (FWD).
Chat works as a patient tracker for the Health Services Support Element. Her responsibilities include globally tracking all 1st MLG (FWD) patients from their point of injury to their final destination and providing patient statuses to command leaders.
Jeff serves as the radio chief and spectrum manager for the 1st MLG (FWD) G-6. As the radio chief, he plans and supervises the installation, operation and maintenance of all single-channel radios. As the spectrum manager, he answers frequency requests and provides call signs to all units in 1st MLG (FWD).
Although they work long hours, the couple tries to spend as much time together as they can while deployed.
“We try to eat chow together as much as possible,” said Jeff, 29, originally from Warsaw, Ohio. “So I would say we get to hang out a lot due to the fact that not too many people get to deploy with their spouse.”
“We also turn in our laundry together,” added Chat. “I know it’s kind of funny, but that’s another way to spend time with him.”
The military lifestyle can be difficult for any marriage, especially when both are on active duty, but Jeff is thankful to have his wife around for moral support, especially since they are both separated from their young son.
“It is a blessing being deployed together, but also very hard because our son is back home with his grandparents,” said Jeff.
Although the parents are thousands of miles away from their son, they try to video chat with little Seth as often as they can.
“Once a week we Skype with our son,” said Chat. “That’s our way of having quality time with the family.”
Along with supporting each other during challenging moments of the deployment, the Rices support each other’s accomplishments, the most recent being Chat’s reenlistment ceremony, Jan. 21, in which she signed on for another six years in the Navy.
“It was nice to witness the ceremony and be a part of it; I haven’t had a chance to be at a lot of her ceremonies since we have jobs and commitments,” said Jeff of his wife’s reenlistment. “I was proud of her because she loves the Navy; she really tries to strive to be the best sailor.”
Jeff said he was also extremely proud of his wife for winning the Regional Command (Southwest) Sailor of the Quarter board this month.
“She goes above and beyond what is expected of her; she sets the bar high,” said Jeff.
As their eighth wedding anniversary approaches, the Rices look forward to celebrating the occasion together, albeit a bit differently than previous years.
“Oh, it will definitely be different than spending it back home,” said Chat. “We usually like to have a fancy dinner somewhere in Coronado or La Jolla, but here, we’ll be enjoying some good chow hall meal. But seriously, we are both happy to spend our special day together.”