By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Neal Uranga

My alarm is set for 4:21 a.m. The odd timing allows for one hit of the snooze button if I want.

By 4:30, like it or not, my morning has started. A few minutes later, my wife is right behind me. As we make our way through our morning routine, my thoughts often linger on how fortunate I am to have family close by. My wife will take our two sons to her mother, and my mother-in-law starts her shift, watching and caring for our boys. I know for some military couples, the obligations of service make having a family difficult, stressful and hectic.

My wife and I met while serving in South Korea. We worked in the same building and occasionally bumped into one another. We stayed in touch after moving on to our follow-on assignments in Europe. And what started as a cordial friendship burgeoned into romance. After one more PCS move, we decided to get married. By this time, it was 2010 and I was stationed in Texas. She was stationed in Washington, D.C.

I had just applied for a joint spouse assignment to be closer to her when my deployment orders dropped. We had been married only a month when I learned I would be leaving for Afghanistan, and pre-deployment training started the following weekend in New Jersey. I was in my deployment window, so it wasn’t a surprise to find out I’d be heading downrange. However, we were caught off guard by how soon I’d be leaving and how fast things were moving. To complicate matters, halfway through this pre-deployment phase, my newlywed wife emailed me with big news.

“I couldn’t wait and I don’t know when you might call so here it is: I’m pregnant!”

Neal and Julie Uranga have figured out how to make life run smoothly as a dual military couple with young children. Both serve in the Air Force and hold the rank of technical sergeant. Pictured with them is their son, Jacob. They have another son, Alexander. | Photo credit Courtesy of Uranga family

A few weeks later I was in Kabul. Although I was in Afghanistan, the conditions weren’t austere. Unlike during World War II, when letters could take weeks or months to reach a loved one, I could call, email, Skype or chat with my wife with the right internet connection. The chaplain always had phone cards and there was always someone stationed with you who knew how to make things happen.

But like any couple, military or otherwise will tell you, just because you can communicate, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you do it well. Living on opposite sides of the globe meant having to learn each other’s schedule, sacrificing sleep and taking extra steps to stay in touch. As my deployment continued and her pregnancy progressed, we slowly became disconnected.

We were both experiencing unique, challenging and stressful situations that neither one of us could relate to. I couldn’t be there for her ultrasound appointments to see our little one moving and growing. I was unable to share in the emotional milestones of her first pregnancy, to understand the way her body was changing and how difficult it was for her to move around.

She couldn’t relate to the convoy missions I was participating in or the daily stresses I faced. A little more than halfway through the deployment, we had opportunities to talk, but one of us would be angry at the other and yet we couldn’t quite articulate exactly why we were mad.

It took some prying, but finally we discussed our stresses and learned how to better understand what the other was going through.

As a military couple, we face the same problems a civilian couple would, though the challenges are different. We have an obligation to the mission, the unit and our families.

The balance between work, family, school and fitness is a daily—often hourly—juggle. Being a dual military couple, we not only help each other in this daily juggling act, but we can relate to the stresses, victories, defeats and obligations.

–Tech. Sgt. Neal Uranga and his wife, Tech. Sgt. Julie Uranga, are currently stationed in the Washington, D.C., area. He serves as an Air Force radio and television broadcaster and is stationed at the Pentagon.