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Chief couple of Grand Forks AFB reflect on experiences

Chief Master Sgt. Brian Thomas, the 319th Air Base Wing command chief, and Chief Master Sgt. Shannon Thomas, the 69th Maintenance Squadron chief enlisted manager, stand outside for a photo on August 22, 2018, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. With more than 40 years of combined military service, B. Thomas and S. Thomas have experienced continuous growth in their career and family. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Melody Wolff)

Chief Master Sgt. Brian Thomas, the 319th Air Base Wing command chief, and Chief Master Sgt. Shannon Thomas, the 69th Maintenance Squadron chief enlisted manager, stand outside for a photo on August 22, 2018, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. With more than 40 years of combined military service, Brian and Shannon have experienced continuous growth in their career and family. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Melody Wolff)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- There are often times where there will be military spouses who are both active-duty members. However, how often do you see both spouses remain in active-duty together? According to the Air Force Portal, there are currently only 28,366 dual military spouses. Not only is being an active-duty military member a challenge in itself, balancing a marriage with another active-duty member can be hard, especially as both members climb the ranks.

Chief Master Sgt. Brian Thomas, 319th Air Base Wing command chief, and his wife, Chief Master Sgt. Shannon Thomas, the 69th Maintenance Squadron chief enlisted manager, have been married for over 15 years, with over 40 years of combined military service.

So what is their secret to being a successful military couple?

Brian and Shannon discussed how they handled having a relationship, marriage and family while graciously serving their country.

Their story began at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, in 1999.

“We were in the same squadron, and even in the same dorm!” said Shannon.

Brian and Shannon explained how they both motivated each other throughout the progression of their careers.

“Seeing Shannon begin as an airman, and progress all the way up to chief is incredibly rare in the Air Force,” said Brian. “What I tell young military couples is that it cannot always be about one person. As we have progressed through every rank together, we always celebrated and rooted for each other. It was never a competition between the two of us, and we have always been each other’s biggest advocates.”

Shannon said she would do her best to be supportive when her husband needed to take a few days or weeks to study for the next promotion test, and vice versa.

“Throughout our career, if one of us needed to study, the other would take care of the kids,” said Shannon. “We would always tell each other that we appreciate each other. He is my No. 1 fan.”

However, it hasn’t always been perfect. Because of the nature of the military, some jobs will consist of more deployments and special assignments, temporarily taking spouses away from their loved ones.

“There were times in our marriage where my job took me away a lot,” said Brian, who explained this stressor impacted their relationship. “Shannon basically told me something needed to change, and we pretty much have this unwritten rule that we don’t volunteer for assignments.”

Shannon agreed open communication, expressing concerns and honest opinions is the best way to maintain a healthy marriage.

Not only was distance a contributing issue, there were times when Shannon’s work schedule and time with her children felt off balance.

“There were times when I needed to remind myself my work would be there the next day, and I needed to go home and spend time with my kids,” said Shannon. “Our No. 1 value is our children.”

Even though there were challenging times, Brian and Shannon reflected on their exciting and amazing careers.

Shannon said one of her favorite memories was watching the impact Brian had on his Airmen.

“Whenever I saw Airmen flock to him, I would just think of how proud I am of him,” said Shannon. “I love being around him, so it makes me feel good when I see others wanting to be around him as well.”

Brian reminisced on a time when Shannon made an impact on her future labor nurse.

“Shannon helped this nurse with her finances when she was a first sergeant, and funny enough the nurse remembered Shannon and helped her throughout her entire labor,” said Brian.

While Brian and Shannon reflected on their careers and marriage, they said they felt both have been successful. Their future plans are to eventually retire in Arizona and begin their own business.

Because of the experiences and adversities they have faced throughout their careers and marriage, the best advice Brian and Shannon could give for a successful marriage in the military is to always have open communication.

“Communication is everything,” said Shannon. “As long as we keep talking to each other rather than holding everything in, we stay happy and have a happy marriage.”