Oceans apart: Airmen couple thrives on Valentine’s Day

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JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.  — After jet-setting from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, to Seattle, Denise prepared to embark on the grueling 10-hour plane ride to Japan. It was Christmas week and she was visiting her boyfriend, Johnny, for the first time since he moved earlier in 2014.

Denise knew it would be hard to maintain their relationship, but so far she couldn’t be happier with her decision to stay with Johnny while he was away.

During their visit, Johnny made it clear he appreciated and shared her sentiment.

“He proposed to me on Christmas Day and of course I said yes,” explained U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Denise Brown, 438th Supply Chain Operations Squadron F-15 Eagle and F-22 Raptor mission capable supervisor. “From that point on, I knew we would make it no matter the distance or the struggles we faced.”

They married a week later, and even though their jobs have taken them in separate directions, Denise knows they will see each other again. This year’s Valentine’s Day is the first they’ll spend apart, and both have found ways to not only bear it, but to thrive.

“Whether preparing for a deployment, temporary duty, [permanent change of station] or anything else, there is nothing that can tear apart a solid relationship,” explained Denise. “It can be stressful to maintain the relationship while we are both on active duty, but it isn’t impossible. Sometimes, it is even helpful.”

She believes their dedication to keeping their mental, spiritual, emotional and physical pillars strong lends to their success.

“We take time to schedule video calls, we have similar physical fitness goals, we maintain our work ethics and we both exercise our spirituality,” said Denise. “It isn’t easy, I won’t lie, but staying healthy individually makes our challenges more bearable.”

Johnny also explained their lives as Airmen and their marriage benefit one another.

“We understand our roles as Airmen require us to stay strong in those pillars, and it is a blessing to see that success positively impact our marriage,” said Senior Airman Johnny Brown, 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-15 Eagle crew chief. “In turn, having a successful relationship also makes us stronger, so it is beneficial both ways.”

Johnny attributes his personal resiliency to what he has learned while enlisted.

“I sometimes have to be without Denise because of our jobs and sometimes I have to sacrifice to overcome obstacles, and that is hard,” said Johnny. “However, we put forward the effort to make the mission happen and ensure we bring our best to the table, whether it is our job, relationship or another endeavor.”

Denise shared methods she believes are universal in coping with separation from a loved one, no matter the circumstance.

“It is important to understand the big picture we are all a part of,” said Denise. “I know the Air Force mission is important, and I know there will be more Valentine’s Days to spend with him. Understanding that life can be hard, accepting those curveballs and finding the positive aspects of a bad situation can make all the difference in any relationship.”

In the end, Denise attributes her and Johnny’s success to their perspectives and attitudes.

“It is easy to get upset or lonely. It is easy to become frustrated with the little time we have together, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Denise. “I choose not to have that attitude, and so can anyone else. I don’t think about how my husband is gone on Valentine’s Day, I am just grateful to have the best Valentine any one could ever ask for.”

This Saturday, Denise won’t take a plane to see Johnny. Due to the 13-hour time difference and his work shift, she won’t spend the day with her husband. However, even though he is thousands of miles away, Denise knows a quick prayer and a glance at the rings on her finger will put him – her Valentine – right by her side.