By George A. Smith, AFN EuropeMarch 4, 2009
MANNHEIM, Germany -- LaToya Sizer worries when her husband Richard deploys and adjusts when he gets back. Nothing unusual about that; deployments and separations are common place in today's Army.
What makes the Sizers different is that they both happen to be command sergeants major, which brings unique challenges and advantages to their family raising efforts.
"The biggest advantage we have is we both deal with the same problems Soldiers have on a daily basis, such as sick children, homework, disciplinary issues, and juggling family and work," Richard said. "So we know what to expect, how to relate and how to deal with those problems as a couple, as Soldiers and as parents."
"We also know all the support that's out there for couples dealing with deployments, such as reintegration services and speaking with military chaplains, when necessary," LaToya added.
But even with experience "times two," the Sizers have had their share of challenges. Richard served as a first sergeant away from the family, two consecutive years in Korea and Iraq before finally rejoining his family in Mannheim in 2005.
LaToya was also a first sergeant and later attended the Sergeants Major Academy as a single parent during the separation. The duo communicated well via letters, telephone, e-mail and webcam, but the communication didn't eliminate reunion woes.
"It was really hard after Richard's deployment to Iraq," LaToya said. "When he initially came back, he was a different man. Everything seemed to annoy him in the house."
Richard had been assigned to a Marine combat unit in Ramadi, which was a hot spot at that time. As a result, he was extremely irritable and needed help adjusting to a less-stressful atmosphere.
"Little things, like kids laughing or dogs barking, bothered him," LaToya said. "He wasn't as patient, and it didn't take much to get him angry. He didn't recognize the way he changed toward us. I had to point it out to him, and we all had to make adjustments to return to a normal family."
Both Sizers feel the first 90 days together after Iraq were the toughest, but planning and communicating really helped the Sizer family return to its pre-deployment lifestyle. LaToya studied the signs and symptoms that returning troops experienced and was able to recognize them immediately.
She also had talks with their two boys, Dante and Devin, before daddy walked in the door, so they would know how to treat him as well.
"I wanted the boys to include Richard in our lives," LaToya said. "He had been absent for two years, and they had to readjust to asking him questions and advice on their issues, instead of bringing them to me. I told them to talk out what was on their mind and to understand that things would be different, now that Richard was home."
Still Richard's Iraq deployment wasn't the hardest one on the kids. It was LaToya's three-month deployment to Haiti that affected then 19-month-old Dante the most.
"Dante was very angry with me when I got back," she said. "He wouldn't talk to me. He was used to dad being gone, but mom was always there. It took him awhile to adjust."
Right now both command sergeants major live in Mannheim.
LaToya is the senior enlisted person at the American Forces Network Europe on Coleman Barracks while Richard is the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion's senior enlisted member. Richard commutes one hour each way, five days a week, but they're not complaining.
For now, neither is scheduled for deployment, and both have turned their attention to making a dual-military career work while taking care of two kids. They're up at 4:30 every morning for physical fitness training and make time at least once a month to have a family weekend when they just do things with the kids.
Separations now are measured in a few days or weeks, instead of years. Now Mom is gone more often than Dad, and Dad turns the separations into father-son bonding sessions.
"Normally the kids aren't allowed to eat in the living room, but when LaToya is gone on temporary duty, we move the furniture back, call out for pizza, munch popcorn and watch movies," Richard said.
They wait to clean up the place until the night before LaToya comes back. "That's when we have a G.I. party cleaning up," Richard said. The guys try to keep the "play-by-play" away from mama, but somehow she always manages to get 11-year-old Devin to give her a "worthy of a journalist" in-depth report on what they did.
The key to raising two kids in a two-career family' "What has worked for us is a man-to-man defense," Richard said laughing. "Since there are two of us and two of them, we can switch on them depending on the situation. Sometimes I'll watch Devin and sometimes she'll watch Dante. When the kids were younger and one of them was acting up or didn't want to see the movie, we worked it that the adult who liked the movie stayed while the other adult left with the boy who needed to leave the theater."
The Sizers often get questions from other dual military families, enlisted soldiers and officers, on how they have managed to stay married more than 17 years through the stress of deployments and demands of raising a family.
Both Soldiers say the key is having the same goals and having a commitment to marriage. They both came from broken homes and don't want it to happen to their family.
"We both serve as examples that it's possible to stay in the Army as a dual-military family," LaToya said. "Both Richard and I have been approached by different couples that'd ask how we do it with kids, or how we cope with a specific situation."
The many questions led LaToya, a journalist, to start writing a book on how to make a joint military career work. She has written about 90 pages so far and plans to have it published soon.
(Editor's note: George A. Smith is the AFN Europe Operations Manager.)