WASHINGTON — As couples across the country celebrate Valentine’s Day, two majors remember how they met, the challenges they faced, and how they continue to make it work while both serving in the Army.
Maj. Liz Collins, an intelligence officer with Defense Intelligence Agency, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., grew up in Korea, Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana and New Jersey. Her father retired as a sergeant first class in infantry. One brother is the finance corps sergeant major with 24 years of service, and the other is an intelligence warrant officer.
Maj. Andrew Collins, an intelligence officer with the Department of the Army, Pentagon, grew up in New York, Kansas, Louisiana and in Saudi Arabia. His dad retired as a lieutenant colonel in infantry.
How they met
“We did the math, and there was some overlap at Fort Johnson when we were kids, even though we didn’t know each other,” Liz said.
“Both of our dads were infantry. We could’ve met on the playground and not known it,” Andrew added with a laugh.
Liz commissioned through Officer Candidate School, and Andrew went to West Point. Both joined the military because they had grown up in the military lifestyle, for the educational benefits, and because of their family history.
“Being familiar with the environment helped shape my decision,” Liz said. “I have a family history of Army service.”
“As an Army brat, you grow up knowing what it’s like and being comfortable and familiar with it,” Andrew said.
Their first assignment was Fort Liberty, North Carolina, where they were executive officers in the same battalion.
“We just became friends,” Liz said. “He was just a great source of information for me a great help, getting me spun up on what it means to be an XO [executive officer] and how to do things. We were prepping for a deployment as soon as I got there. Within three months, we were deploying.”
During their first deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, they were at separate locations, staying in constant communication.
“I emailed him and called him all the time,” Liz said. “He was always so much fun to be around and so much fun to talk to in person and online. He was a mental break away from what I was doing every day in my mission in that environment, to just take a break and talk to somebody fun.”
“I spent time with my platoon sergeant, my warrant officers and my first sergeant but I didn’t have a lot of officers or peers I could hang out with,” Andrew said. “She gave me an outlet digitally. We could stay up late chatting on the little chat boxes with entirely professional conversations but still laughing with each other. We were both in the same job within the same battalion at the time.”
They were friends. Over the year, the two bonded.
“He is hilarious and just laughing at crazy situations that being in the Army bring you into,” Liz said, laughing. “Just having that outlet with somebody, to share it with him. And then him understanding everything you’re talking about, it’s great.”
More than friends
A few months after they got back from Afghanistan, Andrew had to go to school to progress in his career. Liz said she felt a sadness deep within and knew he was more than a friend.
“It wasn’t like losing a friend. It hurt more,” she said. “That feeling let me know this relationship wasn’t something I wanted to let go of at that moment in our lives.”
They started dating in October 2010.
“It was love at first sight for him,” she quipped when asked how Andrew felt.
“It was hard going to school without her, but growing up in the military, you get used to saying, ‘See you later’ to people instead of goodbye. You know you’re going to see them again. I just never really felt like I was saying goodbye,” Andrew said.
“We’re still together. We’re going to stay together forever, absolutely forever, no take backs,” Andrew said, laughing.
They dated for three years, and during that time, she deployed for one year, and he served at a different base. During her second deployment, Liz said she constantly thought of Andrew and knew he was the one for her.
“That was probably the hardest part of our entire 14-year relationship,” Liz said. “It wasn’t the same deployment by any means.”
Since Andrew was stateside, the couple had a time difference, and she couldn’t share mission stories because of her work in the intelligence career field, it was harder to relate to Andrew during that time.
“We got through it,” Liz said. “We made a schedule for when we could call each other. We tried to keep it relevant to what we could talk about and what we were experiencing.”
“We joke that she had a higher standard of living in the [United Arab Emirates] than I did at Fort Johnson,” Andrew said jokingly.
While at the captain’s course at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, they had their first wedding on July 4, 2014, on top of Reservoir Hill so that they could be Army official and move together.
“It’s the home of intel. Everybody runs this hill at a 5,000 elevation. We got married on top of that hill on the 4th of July by one of my instructors,” Liz said. “Andrew’s parents flew in. It was just the four of us, plus this Army chaplain on top of this running hill, overlooking this beautiful vista. It was a beautiful day.”
“It was amazing,” Andrew said. “It was way better than our actual big party wedding. The first wedding was small and intimate. The bigger wedding was with family and friends just outside of Phoenix in September of that year over Labor Day weekend.”
Since they already had two established households, instead of receiving normal wedding presents, they asked for money to go toward their honeymoon.
“It’s sitting in a savings account right now,” Liz said with a chuckle.
They were going to go to Greece for their honeymoon but found out they were getting stationed in Hawaii for almost four years.
“We did take a short trip to Napa Valley that was kind of a mini honeymoon. That was pretty awesome,” Andrew said.
“We got pregnant immediately in Hawaii, like immediately. There was something in the water in Hawaii,” Liz said giggling.
Ellie was born and six months later, Liz was pregnant with Sophia.
“We didn’t find out I was pregnant until I was four-and-a-half months along. We felt her kick,” Liz said.
“I go to Hawaii for three years, and I was pregnant for two of them,” Liz said grinning.
Liz said they were both company commanders in Hawaii. And since both daughters were born there, they took them back on a short vacation last year.
“They got to see where they grew up, where they spent their first few years. The house is still there,” Andrew said. “They just love saying they’re Hawaiian girls.”
“Raising our kids in the Army life, we’ve realized the opportunities they’re getting,” Liz said.
Ellie, 8, has lived in Texas, Hawaii, Korea and Washington, D.C.
“We make her aware of all the experiences those locations can provide,” Andrew said. “Their cousins have lives in the same house their entire life. We remind them of the cool things they get to experience and give them a global perspective.”
Making joint assignments work
Whether joint spouses are enlisted or officers, it’s always a challenge to get assigned together, especially as each spouse rises in the rank and responsibility. They talk to their assignments team to see what jobs are available for two people in one area while still trying to advance in their respective career fields.
For example, an officer will need to lead at different levels such as company, battalion, brigade and division, depending on their career fields.
“We’re not complaining because of the locations we’ve been to, which have been amazing, and it’s about keeping our family together,” Liz said, “but at the end of the day, it’s managing the touchpoints you have to have in your career.”
“Depending on the job and the mission, somebody has to take a backseat sometimes, and then we rotate it,” she added.
Andrew said it didn’t always work out. He got a great opportunity to work at the Pentagon and had to take it.
“It turned out great but made a life a little bit harder,” he said.
They both said communication with each other and with their family, friends and the military community is vital.
“The Army really teaches you how to communicate,” Liz said. “Early on we knew it was rough and that we have to talk to each other. I deployed again in 2019.”
“Here we have a great support structure with our family,” Andrew said of being stationed in Washington, D.C.
He said they didn’t have trouble convincing any of their family to come out to Hawaii to help them.
“In Korea, you’re reliant on other military families to help you out, and they did,” Andrew said. “Our commands were very supportive of us.”
Still a spark
From serving as executive officers to a year of deployment chats, two weddings and two daughters, 14 years of marriage hasn’t dampened this couple’s spark.
“There’s so much joy that you get from having a partner who understands you, who supports you and that has the same career,” Liz said.
“I love his blue eyes, and he’s still hilarious,” Liz said animatedly. “He’s very calm, mellow, approachable but hilarious. He’s also very reserved. Most people don’t realize how funny he is until they get to know him. It’s like this secret I get that he doesn’t share with the whole world.”
“She’s young at heart and the life of the party. She always has a lot of energy,” Andrew said about Liz. “She’s bubbly and fun to be around.”
The two majors tend to finish each other’s sentences and both agree that they see a little of each other in their daughters.
“I see us in both of our daughters,” Andrew said. “Ellie is much more outgoing than me but also super easy going. Sophia, I see myself in her a lot.”
“They’re both very animated. They’ve successfully gotten that trait,” Liz said proudly. “And they have lots of energy, nightly dance parties, karaoke competitions. You can thank Korea for that one.”
“And expect Andrew to bust out, ‘You’re welcome’ during those parties,” Liz couldn’t resist saying.