By Tracy Ammons, US Army Corps of Engineers Savannah DistrictAugust 11, 2009
For Ramon and Eman Sundquist, team members in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District, deployments are simply a part of married life. From falling in love in Kuwait to deploying together to Afghanistan, they have shared 16 years of unique, adventurous marriage.
Deployments spark friendship
It all started in 1991, when Ramon, then a resident engineer with Wilmington District, began a series of three 90-day deployments to the Kuwait Emergency Recovery Operation (KERO). Meanwhile, Eman, Egyptian by birth but living in Kuwait, worked as an electrical engineer with KERO.
"The Kuwaiti volunteers worked closely with USACE to complete our priority mission, which was to help rebuild Kuwait after Desert Storm," Eman said. "Knowing the Corps was famous for emergency recovery, we knew they could help us restore water and power. So we assigned one volunteer to each USACE team, and we facilitated between USACE and Kuwaiti government officials. That's how I met Ramon."
Throughout these three deployments, Ramon and Eman discovered they shared a lot of the same interests, especially with electronics and computers. During the close contact of their busy jobs, the two developed a close friendship.
"It was during my third deployment to Kuwait that Eman and I truly fell in love," he said. "I gave her a ring and asked her to come to the U.S. with me. But because of the cultural differences between us, there was some resistance from her family at the beginning."
So Ramon returned to the States alone. But not long after, Eman made arrangements with friends to leave her native land and start a new life in America with him.
"I went up to meet her when she got off her plane in New York, and we flew down to Tampa, Fla., where my parents live, and we got married," Ramon said. "It was Feb. 15, 1993. And just like the fairy tales, we've been happy ever since."
On the road again
As a married couple, Ramon and Eman have shared several civilian deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2005, the couple spent six months in Gulf Region South (GRS) in Iraq. Ramon, who had transferred from Wilmington District to Savannah District in 1997, went to GRS as an area engineer for the Southern Oil Program. Eman, who had just been hired as a term employee with Transatlantic Programs Center, deployed to GRS as a project engineer for the Basra Area Office.
While they worked in different offices and were extremely busy with their jobs, the couple still shared time together each night at the camp.
This deployment was very meaningful to Eman. Because she was raised in both Kuwait and Cairo, Egypt, she had a natural bond with the Iraqi people, and she interacted with them frequently.
"My first deployment to Iraq was amazing," Eman said. "Because I speak their language, I could talk with the Iraqi people and they could share things with me. Because of that, I saw that they have family, they have feelings, and they want the best for their country. They're not like the bad guys you see on TV."
Two years later in August 2007, Ramon deployed by himself to the Afghanistan Engineer District (AED) where he took on a challenging role as chief of the Contract Administration Branch. Meanwhile, Eman stayed at their North Carolina home, where she now worked as a full-time Savannah District employee in the construction division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
But two months into Ramon's deployment, Eman decided to join him in Afghanistan. Besides longing to be with her husband, Eman was eager to pursue project management with AED.
"During my internship rotation at Savannah District, I really enjoyed working at the Military Project Management Branch for two weeks," she said. "So when I got the opportunity to join Ramon in Afghanistan, I wanted to be a project manager so I could see what happened to the contract before it got awarded."
Retired, but not tired
Ramon hung up his hard-hat and retired in August 2008 from Savannah District, where he spent 11 years as a resident engineer. But only three months later, he was back on an airplane headed for Afghanistan.
"I wanted to go back and finish a training program we created for new construction employees," he said. "It was very satisfying to help mold the process and establish procedures and policies. You don't get that kind of opportunity often, but it really makes an impact in the organization."
But just like the last set of deployments, Eman could not stay back home long. When AED asked her to come back for two months, she was eager to pack her bags and join her husband in Afghanistan.
She returned home to North Carolina at the end of February to resume her electrical engineering duties at Fort Bragg, while Ramon stayed in Afghanistan until his deployment ended in May. These three months were Eman and Ramon's longest separation.
"We talked on the phone every night," she said. "I'd call him around 10 o'clock at night, which is 6:30 a.m. their time, and we'd talk for about five minutes. Advanced technology, with the Internet and e-mail, has really eased our communication barrier."
While the couple enjoys several hobbies, like playing the online game "World of Warcraft" and doing home improvement projects at their home in Holly Springs, N.C., future deployments for the Sundquist family are not completely out of the question.
"Deploying is an adventure," Ramon said. "Of course, they money is good, but it's an invigorating thing to go to another country and work for the USACE mission. Sometimes it can be dangerous, but the Soldiers make it their first priority to protect us. They always made me feel safe."
"It's an adventure to deploy, but it's also a wonderful culture experience," Eman said. "Meeting the people and knowing their culture - plus, Afghanistan is beautiful. The capital of Afghanistan is higher than Boulder, Colo. It took me a week and a half to adjust to the oxygen levels there. We were surrounded by mountains, covered in snow. It was absolutely beautiful."
While Ramon still considers another deployment to AED, he isn't sure how soon he may leave. Eman, on the other hand, is knee-deep in a $270 million Base Realignment and Closure project at Fort Bragg - a colocated Army Forces Command and Reserves Command headquarters.
"Maybe once the FORSCOM project is finished, Eman and I can go back to Afghanistan together, but we'll have to see," Ramon said.
Eman is not completely opposed to the idea.
"Both of us enjoy experiencing other cultures and meeting new people. It's absolutely priceless," she said.