An Army-Issued Marriage
March 31, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq - Since 2001, multiple deployments have put a strain on Army Families, and two-Soldier marriages are no different.
Larry and Renalta Alston, both with the Texas Army National Guard, know this strain all too well. Their entire relationship has been subject to the current high-level operational tempo. Despite numerous deployments and the worst natural disaster to hit the United States in recent times, they are finding happiness in a place neither of them would have expected.
The two first met in 2003 at a troop medical clinic in Ft. Polk, La., while mobilizing for their first Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment with the Louisiana Army National Guard.
"I was in there for an upper respiratory infection and he was there for a spider bite, a brown recluse," said Spc. Renalta Alston, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 167th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion fusion cell entry control point. "We started talking to each from there."
They deployed to Kuwait where they were assigned to sister truck units running missions into Iraq. They didn't get to see much of each other during that deployment, but that didn't bother them too much.
"I didn't like him, and he didn't like me much either," Renalta said, smiling at her husband. "I'd speak to him just to be nice."
"We saw each other off and on, but only spoke briefly while in Kuwait," said Cpl. Larry Alston, a truck commander with Bravo Company, 636th Brigade Support Battalion. "We left and went back to the U.S. in 2004. That was about the end of that chapter."
It easily could have been the end for them, but the Army brought them back together.
"We mobilized again a couple months later in 2004 and went back to Iraq," Larry said with a sigh and a chuckle.
The two Soldiers wound up in Camp Victory, Baghdad. After a chance encounter in the dining facility, they realized they liked each other more than they thought.
"We started being really close friends in August 2005, right before Katrina hit," Larry said. Larry's two children from a previous relationship were in New Orleans when Katrina landed. He left Iraq to look for his kids without saying good-bye.
"I didn't know I was leaving," Larry said. "I wasn't scheduled to leave for about a week, but then they walked in my room and said, 'Pack your stuff, you're going home'" When he got home, a relationship was the furthest thing from his mind.
"I went home to check on my family," he said. "I couldn't find my children for three weeks. My daughter Isis was in Galveston, Texas, and my son Saqu was in Panama City, Florida."
Renalta redeployed a short time later. With both of them finally back in the U.S., they were finally able to go on their first date.
"We went to Lafayette, La., to hang out and have dinner," Renalta said.
Their relationship progressed in fits and spurts -- seeing each other when and where they could -- until fate brought them both to Dallas.
Shortly after transferring to the Texas National Guard, Larry volunteered for another deployment to Iraq and went to Camp Shelby, Miss., for mobilization. Renalta wasn't ready to be separated from Larry for such a long time.
"My mom lives two hours away from Camp Shelby," she said with a wry grin. "I went to stay with her so I could see him every weekend."
Knowing they had to make it official if they wanted their relationship to last, the two used Larry's pre-deployment four-day pass to get married in Louisiana.
"July the tenth," Larry said without hesitating about the date, "we put on our tennis shoes and the nicest little outfits we had at the time and we went to the Concordia Parish Court House."
Renalta got quiet as she recalled what came next.
"He shipped out two days later," she said. It was the first OIF deployment they weren't going to spend together. The separation was particularly stressful for Renalta.
"I wasn't used to being by myself," Renalta said. "I got involved in the church. I sang in the choir. On any given Sunday we could sing in four different churches including our own."
Renalta's coping method added stress to Larry's deployment.
"Sundays were my only day off, and when I called she wouldn't be there," Larry said.
Larry returned home to Renalta in May of 2008. Their reunion, however, was short- lived. Renalta was activated in July for her current deployment. Larry quickly volunteered for the deployment. He couldn't let her go to Iraq by herself.
The new rule allowing married couples to live together during deployments has made this tour surprisingly pleasant.
"It's like a little sanctuary," Renalta said of their room together.
The deployment has also provided the couple with time together they never had before.
"This deployment has given us a chance to reconnect. We're able to understand each other better," Renalta said.
Going from a deployment that separated him from his wife to a deployment where he lives with her has made Larry re-evaluate his life.
"There's a lot of stuff I used to take for granted that I don't take for granted any more. Especially time with my Family," he said. "You have so little time on this earth, and Family is all that you have."
Story by Sgt. Thomas J. Poole, UPAR, 167th CSSB, 287th Sustainment Brigade public affairs. For queries, contact 3d Sustainment Command Public Affairs at: ESCPAO@iraq.centcom.mil. For high-resolution photos and stories by the 3d Sustainment Command, please contact the Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System by calling (678) 421-6612 or access them online at http://www.dvidshub.net/units/3sce.