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American Homefront

Off the Base: A Chat with an Amazing Military Wife'

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Bobbie O'Brien
WUSF Public Media

Valentine's Day is just days away, but what about when your sweetheart is thousands of miles away?  The ultimate test of a long-distance romance is having a military spouse. 

I chatted with a military couple married more than a decade to learn their secrets to a lasting relationship. It wasn’t happenstance how I found Air Force Master Sgt. Erik Johanson and his wife, Jennifer.

Erik sent me an email a few weeks back with the subject line: Amazing Military Wife.

It was an early Valentines’ Day surprise for Jennifer.

“It did bring a tear to my eye, and he did show me the email he wrote to you which really was very moving and totally unexpected,” Jen said.

The email was unexpected because Erik is a quiet guy. When Jen, who is British, first met him in a London pub, Erik stood out because he was so shy compared to his American buddies.

Once she said hello, their attraction was immediate. Their romance was tested and strengthened by the width of the Atlantic Ocean a year before they married.

Now, many husbands believe their wives are pretty amazing. But Erik offered proof in his email:

Jennifer is the founder of the Brandon British Club an organization she started from scratch … to give other British people in the community a little taste of home ... Jennifer is also a member of the Brandon CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and has recently received her CERT First Responder Course ...  She is also active in the huge problem of human trafficking, she recently completed a training course on human trafficking provided by St Petersburg College ... Finally, Jennifer is a devoted mother to three beautiful little girls …

As the three of us chatted on the patio of O’Brien’s Irish Pub in Brandon, the couple’s daughters, Ella, Freya and Poppy, were inside taking Celtic dance lessons.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Master Sgt. Erik Johanson and Jennifer, his wife.

Jen's accomplishments are inspiring, but add in that she is a military spouse and she becomes even more "amazing" because Erik is away about 50 percent of the time on missions around the world.

They will be married 12 years this Father’s Day. Erik credits the longevity to understanding.

“I can’t say no a lot of times when it comes to work.  It’s unfortunate that I have to miss a lot of events not do as much with family as I’d like to,” Erik said. “She understands that and she’s dealt with that beautifully. For me, it’s the opposite side of the coin to understand she really struggles when I’m not there.”

The secret to a successful military marriage, according to Jen? “Give a lot and take a little.”

She said it took her a while to adjust to marriage and military life, but now she’s “totally okay” with the missions and work commitments.

“It is give and take, patience, understanding,” Jen added.

And it will require a little patience and understanding this Valentine’s Day because Erik will be off on a mission.

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