hree couples in III Marine Expeditionary Force share their personal stories of life, resiliency and struggle. Each unique story paints a picture of remaining faithful despite trials and tribulations. Find out how these couples turned cultural differences, physical separation and newlywed stress into a source of strength.
Part 1: The Seasoned Vets
Private First Class Hareko Keel, got off a bus in front of the enlisted club on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan, in 1997. It was his first Friday on the island.
“The most beautiful girl” stood outside. He gathered the courage to talk to her.
“I was lil’ old Pfc.,” said Master Sgt. Hareko Keel, now the utilities chief with Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “She laughed at me, man.”
Tomoko pretended not to speak English. Hareko knew she did, so he stubbornly continued talking to her until she spoke back. They dated for three years before tying the knot.
“He was really cool,” said Tomoko Keel, Hareko’s wife. “He always made me want to become a better person. He had a goal and that was pretty impressive to me.”
The Keels have been married for 16 years. Hareko said his wife continues to play a big role in his life.
“I would always want to be there for him. He loves the Marine Corps so much,” said Tomoko, from Okinawa. “He did a lot for me – being positive and being strong for me. I can always respect him. He always lifts me up.”
He knows it too.
“She’s a strong supporter. She stayed up all night if I needed her to,” said Hareko, from Bladenboro, North Carolina. “When, I’m doing my homework, or going to school, or if I’m doing an inspection, or I need someone to wake me up in the morning if I’m tired, I can call her. If I’m having a rough day at work, she’ll pick up the phone and we would talk about it.”
They both admit it hasn’t always been easy. Military life throws curve balls from time to time.
“I deployed to Iraq then I deployed to Afghanistan nine months later,” Hareko said. “That was trying because she was pregnant at the time and almost died in the hospital at the time when giving birth.”
His wife agreed, “Those times were one of the toughest moments for our family.”
As he moved up the ranks, he gained more responsibility. When he reached the rank of gunnery sergeant, he had to switch his military occupational specialty.
“I’ve been in the Marine Corps 19 years, five months,” Hareko said. “My wife has gotten up every day with me whether if it’s two in the morning, three in the morning, four or five in the morning and made me breakfast or made me a lunch. For 19 years she always cooked me a meal even if we were arguing. Even when I’m down she always got my back telling me to keep going.”
Part 2: The Newlyweds
During his first deployment to Okinawa in 2013, Staff Sgt. Anthony K. Marsh met the love of his life, a cashier at the Camp Schwab Exchange.
“I love Ayumi. She is my happiness, and I cannot wait to see what the world has in store for us,” said Marsh, a platoon sergeant with Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force
Marsh was in Okinawa for a six month deployment. He didn’t have long with Ayumi. He had to return to the states before being stationed in Okinawa five months later.
“It was the longest time we’ve spent apart,” she said.
Her husband agrees. It was a difficult time.
“Being apart was absolutely the hardest part of our relationship so far,” said Marsh, from Camp Pendleton, California. “For me, I understand being a Marine we leave for long periods of time, but to have to explain that to my long distance girlfriend at the time … why I have to be gone for so long is very difficult. Not only that, the 14 hour time difference between California and Okinawa made having the availability to talk even more of a struggle.”
Marsh came back to Okinawa September 2015 and married Ayumi one month later.
“Two weeks after we got married, I was sent to the field for another two weeks,” said Marsh. “We ended up having to spend all of this time apart, but when I thought about it, I was given the chance to spend the Holidays with the woman I loved, which made the lonely nights not seem so bad.”
The couple struggled with distance, time zones and five months of paperwork to receive their entitlements, which included a house.
“They have many programs for spouses to get together and relate with each other and help provide the information and support someone might need to get through a struggling time” said Marsh.
Ayumi, being from Okinawa, does not know many military wives. These programs give her a chance to connect with military spouses who can relate to her struggles. The Marine and Family Programs Division gives commanders support and resources to provide such assistance as religious, life skills, family advocacy, family life counseling, new parent and youth programs.
Marsh’s command, III MEF, is a forward deployed unit with a high deployment tempo. He said this will require him to be away from his family and take advantage of these programs.
The couple has an optimistic view despite the separations.
“There are struggles yes, but any good love story is going to have its struggles,” said Marsh. “I travel the world with my wife, and I love her for all the happiness she brings me.”
Part 3: The Deployed
While still an enlisted Marine, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Milton W. Hoss deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He left his wife and new born daughter back home in Okinawa, Japan.
“During my first deployment my operation tempo was through the roof,” said Hoss a motor transport maintenance officer for Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “Lucky for me though, I was able to have an unclassified phone that allowed me to call home every once in a while and talk with my wife and my daughter.”
Hoss spent almost a year in Afghanistan away from his family.
“Our first daughter (Sierra) was 18 months old when he left for Afghanistan,” said Gina N. Hoss, a native from Minneota, Minnesota. “I was by myself in Okinawa raising a child and it was those connections I had made with other military wives through activities and programs that helped get me through.”
Being apart for so long was a new experience for the Hoss family, according to Gina. It had an emotional impact on the homecoming.
“As soon as Sierra recognized her daddy, she took off running into his arms and would not let him go,” said Gina. “She had not seen her dad for almost a year, and it made my heart melt to know she still remembered her father. To see her react the way she did made the homecoming go very smoothly.”
Hoss spent a lot of time away from home during his 18 years in the Marine Corps. That has not stopped Gina, Sierra and their newest child, Maddison, from enjoying their time with him, according to Gina.
“It was a different kind of first relationship for my wife and me,” said Hoss a native from Marshall, Minnesota. “It worked out for both of us though. I knew the moment I saw her with my friends, she was going to be the women I was going to marry.”
In 2001 Gina and Hoss got married and Gina made her first big move away from home to Okinawa, Japan.
“You marry a Marine, you marry the Marine Corps. There is no reason to hate it,” said Gina. “We have had a good experience. That is why he is still in. It is not just his decision. It is our decision, and together we fight just like every couple. You just have to keep going.”