Everyone has a story: Stripes and bars together

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
"In a lot of ways, we're the exact same person," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Candace Lucas, Air Combat Command Commander's Action Group strategic communication lead, as she smiled at her husband. "We have always had this ability to make each other laugh."

Chief Master Sgt. James Lucas, 633rd Mission Support Group superintendent, smiled back at the woman who has been his constant companion during the challenges, struggles and triumphs that come from being a couple with one enlisted and one commissioned spouse. Together, their relationship has endured based on a foundation of mutual trust, respect and understanding.

The couple met in 2003 while on assignment in Korea. After exchanging glances on the plane and bumping into each other at in-processing areas, Candace and James first spoke in the elevator at the hotel at which they were staying.

"She was following me," James said, as his wife shook her head in disagreement. "She has such a big heart. She cares a lot and gives so much of herself without holding back. When we met I could tell right away that she was someone I wanted to be with."

From the instant they met, James and Candace felt a mutual respect and understanding for one another that has continued to this day.

"We know each other really well," James said. "We know where each other came from and respect one another."

After a brief conversation in the elevator, the two quickly became friends. They dated throughout the tour, falling deeper in love. However, facing separate assignments after their time in Korea, the couple was forced to make a difficult decision regarding their relationship.

"You hear horror stories of people getting married too quickly, and then it doesn't work out," Candace said. "We were cautious to jump into a marriage."

So they waited, staying in touch and remaining friends. On a return from deployment in 2005, James found himself passing through Ramstein Air Base, Germany - where Candace was stationed. After taking leave and spending a few weeks together, both realized their lives needed to continue down the same path. They married that same year.

"We applied for a join spouse assignment and were both disapproved," James said. "We had to make a decision. Either we were going to be locked in for two more years with no guarantee of being together afterward, or look for another way."

Candace, who was working and going to school full-time, decided to separate from the military and pursue her degree, while living with James at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

"Even now I'm still shocked I made the decision to separate," Candace said. "It was such a big risk, but I always knew I wanted to finish school and then commission."

Making school a priority, Candace said she attacked her classes tenaciously. She even motivated James to attend college.

"I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could. I started going back to school," James said. "We actually graduated in the same class."

With degrees in hand, the Lucas' began thinking about their future, along with dreams of Candace commissioning. After living together in Alaska for only three months, James received orders to Ramstein. The couple said the years spent in Germany were among the best, as they planned to grow their family. In 2008, the Lucas' welcomed their son, Blake, into the world.

Parenting was a new frontier for James and Candace. Neither had very much experience with children prior to Blake.

"We decided in all our infinite wisdom that we didn't need to take any classes, or do anything to prepare," Candace said, sarcastically. "I read one book on childcare and figured I was ready for anything."

James laughed and agreed with his wife about their venture into the new horizon of parenthood.

"I had held a baby one time, so I figured I was ready," James joked.

Candace said the only sound she could hear after Blake was born was laughter coming from the other side of the delivery room where James was putting a diaper on Blake.

"He had put the diaper on inside out and upside down," Candace said. "It was crazy, and I was so afraid we would mess up. Thankfully my mom was there to help us through everything."

However, before Blake was even 1 year old, James was called to deploy to Iraq for nine months. The entire time, James said he was worried what the impact of his absence would be on his son.

"We didn't get to Skype a whole lot; it was kind of a rough period," James said. "I was worried he wouldn't even recognize me when I got back, but he just accepted me right away. That was the best for me."

Even though Blake was still very young, he welcomed his father home as if no time had passed.

With their family whole once more, James tested for chief master sergeant and Candace applied for her commission. In 2010, the new chief and soon-to-be Air Force officer were assigned to Langley Air Force Base. Candace was able to use her experiences as an enlisted Airman and military spouse to enhance her new career as an officer.

"She has been affiliated with the Air Force in every imaginable way," James said. "I think that's why she connects so well with Airmen. She knows what it's like to be a spouse, a noncommissioned officer and now an officer, on top of being a wife and a mother."

With such an array of skills, both James and Candace agreed that they help one another grow both personally and professionally.

"I receive daily 'chief mentoring,'" Candace said, smiling. "It really is helpful. I can take the insight he shares with me and pass it along to the people I work with."

Candace proudly admitted her husband's advice has taught her to fully appreciate everything the Air Force has done for their family.

"We have so many amazing opportunities, and such a great life," she said. "Every day I am thankful for what the Air Force has done for me."

Looking back, James agreed the benefits and opportunities are amazing, but the road his family travels is what truly matters.

"Who we are is defined by the journey we've taken," James said. "It hasn't always been easy, and we've had our bumps along the way, but we always come back to our center."

James and Candace both agree that whatever challenges the future may hold, they are ready to tackle them together with trust, understanding and love always by their side.