Conjugal Warfare

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Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez

An OH 58 Delta Kiowa Warrior helicopter takes off from Forward Operating Base Wolverine in Zabul Province in 2009.

Army Major Ryan Guthrie is an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter pilot who spent her second tour in Afghanistan, in 2010-2011, commanding a 270-person aviation support company. She had lots of trouble with contractors who were supposed to be helping her, but no trouble at all being a female commander at Bagram air base north of Kabul.

In fact, one of the more interesting things about her deployments was that she shared them with…her husband. She discussed their experience in this October interview with the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Excerpts:

There was a time as a kid watching Top Gun and I wanted to be a fighter pilot, which is interesting because at the time, women couldn’t, but nobody told me that.
As a kid, I always figured that would be an option. That was a phase but there was a time that I wanted to be a fighter pilot. [Laughs]…

Q: Any difficult challenges at all with being a female?

None at all. That is your frame of mind and I teach all of my females the same thing. “Don’t let anyone treat you different.” I loved it. “Don’t let the Army segregate females in any way, shape, or form within your capability and there won’t be a difference.”

It seems crazy but if you’re in a mass tent, if you can, put them together because he looks at her and it’s not female it’s my battle buddy; it’s my brother and sisters in arm and so they shouldn’t look at each other any differently. As much as you can, you break down those barriers. You have the same standards and you carry the same weight.

I wish the Army physical fitness test (PFT) was identical. You ask the same of them then they won’t look at them differently. It’s in the branches that have the most segregation and those are the ones that have the most problems with the females.

In Aviation, it integrates really well. In the pilot world, there is absolutely nothing that one female can do differently in the cockpit; there is nothing. They look at each other as pilot and pilot…

Q: Talk about deploying with your husband.

On our first deployment…he was the battalion maintenance tech for the motor pool and I was the maintenance for aviation. We were both in Kirkuk. We were only there together for the first three months, maybe four months.

Our battalion commander was very lenient and let us cohabitate, which was completely in the rights. It’s funny because the big challenge was everyone’s perception in that they think the general order is that you can’t have sex. It doesn’t say that. It says you can’t have sex with locals…It doesn’t say that you can’t have sex.

The amendment to the general order is that you can’t be in a shared living space with someone of the opposite sex unless approved by a field grade or above…

It was a really unique experience. I’m grateful the battalion commander let us [live together]. It was a stress reducer for me and him in a key leadership position just to be able to live together…

Then when I became the brigade S4 I went to Speicher so we were separate. From time to time, he would come to Speicher for meetings and he would stay with me so we got to see each other that way.

On the last deployment, we got to cohabitate almost the whole time. When we first arrived, the outgoing brigade commander had a policy that absolutely no one lives together. It frustrated my husband a lot. He gets to see his wife all the times, in meals and meetings but he can barely look at me…

He can’t have the intimate spousal moment, just to hold my hand or look into my eyes; he can’t even do that because everyone was watching. It was so frustrating; he was really frustrated. The first two to three months we dealt with that and then after they completely cleared out and we had our brigade commander who was supportive of it, he rewrote general order one amendments.

I built facilities within my logistical supply area (LSA) so that married couples could cohabitate together and not get any more benefit than others. We had eight per building and we just divided it up. My husband was responsible for putting up the walls. [Laughs] It was a huge stress relief.

I know in Iraq it was stressful for him because I would go out on a mission and he wouldn’t go to sleep because he was just paranoid about me, especially when we were separated and he had no idea what was going on. We’d call, Skype or email but when we were together he knew when I came home and it was more of a comfort…

In my company, there were four [married] couples. There was total housing for about a dozen, actually, across the battalion…

Some battalions wouldn’t even allow it. Thankfully our battalion did. Again, we had a lenient battalion commander who would rather get the benefits of family harmony versus the stress of seeing your spouse every day.

I guess they see it as other Soldiers looking at it and being jealous…I’m like, “Well, your wife can join too.”

There were about a dozen and we housed those who were directly related to our company on our side. It was interesting because the walls were thin but you can hear the other couples.

There was one couple that never talked to each other and I thought that was odd. They actually divorced when we got back but we could see that in country.

There was another couple and they were completely normal. It was funny, one night in the middle of the night, she screams, “Get off of me! Get off of me!”

My husband wakes me up and says, “You better go take care of that.” I’m thinking, “Oh my God!” I ran to the other side of the building and she says, “Your hands are freezing! Why do you have to come in from the bathroom and put your hands on me?”

[Laughter] It was just a funny anecdote with how that works. He’s freaking out. I got there and she says, “Sorry. He went to the bathroom at the Porta-John, came back and put his cold hands on me.”