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America at War

Military, Married and Serving Together

Bill Radke

Suzie Lechtenberg

Larger view
Sgt. Beau Freeman's wife also serves in Iraq
(Patrick Fort/AFP/Getty Images)

This weekend, Army sergeants Bikiesa and Joe Cole are working. Their jobs are at Camp Falcon in Iraq -- also known as FOB. It's where they're stationed together. Bikiesa and Joe have been married for three years.

Married couples cohabiting on base is pretty new for the military. Army rules used to bar any soldiers of the opposite sex from sleeping in the same area. But Army commanders recently decided to let married couples live together.

I asked Joe and Bikiesa what their living quarters are like. They said it's sort of like a trailer... Maybe smaller than a trailer, if that's possible:

Sgt. Bikiesa Cole: What it came with was two wall lockers, two tiny night stands with one drawer, two beds that you can set up as bunk beds or bring them down, and a window and a door. That's it.

Bill Radke: A love nest.

Both: Yes.

Sgt. Joe Cole: And the beds, we just took them down and put them side by side to make a king- or a queen-sized bed, so we've just got them stacked beside each other and turned the mattress sideways so we can have a lot more room and we can sleep together. But it's small.

What's it like to be married there? How romantic can you be in a war zone?

Joe Cole: Not at all. I really can't show her anything while I'm at work because we are supposed to keep professional. And so we maintain that during the 12-hour shifts that we work.

Bikiesa Cole: You find some interesting ways to be romantic. Just little games that we play or little smart remarks we make to each other is pretty much how we're romantic.

Can you let us in on any of that?

Both: Uhhh! (laughing)

Joe Cole: Some of the things that I do, you know, when she's walking around, getting ready for bed, I call her my little stinky pie. Like, girl, you stink!

Bikiesa Cole: Well see, you sweat a lot over here because the temperature can get up anywhere from the 90s up to 108 or even higher. So it's kind of funny to us because everybody around here sweats.

And everyone isn't as close to one another as you are.

Both: Exactly. Yeah.

So while you are on duty, how do you have to keep it professional? What's that like?

Joe Cole: When I see her, sometimes I want to go up and hug her and hold her hand or kiss on her -- and that stuff you can't do while you are on duty. So what I try to do is, she has her own office and sometimes she's in there by herself and I sneak in there and, you know, pat her on the butt or give her a quick hug. You know, little stuff like that, just to let her know I still love her.

Bikiesa Cole: We can't be really close to each other because of the perception, even though we are married. We always have to be professional because we are in uniform and we are in a combat zone, so we've got to be on our p's and q's out here.

Call each other sergeant?

Both: Yes. Yes. (laughing)

Joe Cole: If someone is around, I'll call her Sgt. Cole, but if it's just me and her when I sneak back to her office I call her "Kee" or "Kee Kee."

For me and my wife, our weekend is when we get to relax together -- what is your version of a weekend?

Joe Cole: Going to chow at 1300. Right now she works seven days a week, 12 hours a day. I get off Wednesdays. There's no real time off for us, but when we get off a shift we normally eat dinner together in our room, start to watch a movie and end up falling asleep, getting ready for the next day.

What does that do to you as a couple, not having that much time together?

Bikiesa Cole: I think it's actually bringing us closer, because we are in a combat zone. So I actually think it is bringing us closer and we're showing a lot more affection towards each other and it's making that love grow stronger. Because it is a difficult situation that we're in right now. So if we can make it through this, we can make it through anything.

Joe Cole: I second that emotion. Like she said, it is bringing us closer, because like she said it is really hard and it gets kind of stressful on me, but like I said, if we can make it through this, then we'll be able to conquer anything.

I've talked to military spouses who worry a lot about their loved ones overseas -- you guys are there together. How much do you worry about each other there?

Bikiesa Cole: It's a whole lot easier for me being over here with him, rather than being in the states and not seeing him at all, talking to him about once a week, and not knowing what's going on.

Joe Cole: If I had my choice, she would be back in the United States and let me come do this, because this is my third trip over here and I know what to expect. Like when we first got here, there was multiple attacks on our FOB, and every time she would hear a round go off, she would jump and get scared and go get her gear and her weapon and get ready to defend the FOB, and I would be like, well, it's just mortars. I had to tell her, if you hear the mortar, you are fine, it's when you don't hear the mortar, is when you have problems. It's either too far away, or it hit you, and if it hit you then there's not too much you can do. So if I had my way, you know, I would rather her be home, because I can't leave my post to go check on her.

Your deployment ends in about a year -- if you were to get reassigned to Iraq, would you sign up to be together there again?

Bikiesa Cole: Yes, I would.

Joe Cole: That question hurt me. I was hoping this would be my last year. I have 15 years in, so once I come back I'll be a little bit over three, and I was trying to avoid a fourth time over here. But if I had to come back, no I wouldn't want her to come. And hopefully that one would be my last one.

Every time you say goodbye to one another and you go off to your separate parts of the camp, what is that goodbye like?

Bikiesa Cole: I don't even say goodbye to him. We have this thing where we don't say goodbye. We say, I'll talk to you later or I'll see you later.

Joe Cole: When we first started dating, we used to say goodbye and we came to the conclusion that goodbye means forever, we're gone, not ever coming back. So we established that we would not use the word goodbye unless we're gone for good. So now, like she said, we say 'See you later' or 'I'll talk to you later.' So I really don't think about it. Once we part from each other, I know she's going to be all right. Like I said, my biggest worry is when the incoming rounds start coming in and I just don't know. I don't know if she's all right or not.

Bikiesa Cole: I think that's one of the biggest things. Not knowing is the biggest stress factor over here. Not knowing what's going to happen next.

Joe Cole: But you can't dwell on not knowing because it will stress you out and you won't be able to do your job.

Bikiesa Cole: Exactly.

At least you don't know together.

Both: Right.

Bikiesa and Joe, thank you so much for spending this time with us.

Bikiesa Cole: Oh, thank you.

Joe Cole: Thank you, guys, for supporting us and letting us do this.

  • Music Bridge:
    Slips pt. 3
    Artist: Ribbon Effect
    CD: Slip (Room Tone)
More stories from our America at War series


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