MANNHEIM, Germany — They started dating at a signal school for officers and struggled through five years of a long-distance, on-again, off-again relationship.
They finally were posted together at the Pentagon, just six doors away from each other in the 17½ miles of hallway of what’s been called the biggest high school in the world.
Because they were single, they both had extra duty as White House social aides. That meant they pretty much went to a party at the White House every night.
“The biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“The White House eggnog? If you can get the recipe, do it,” she said.
It also meant that they got to see the Clintons and the Bushes (the second ones) up close and personal. “President Clinton treated us very well,” she said.
“I claim I’m the first military aide President Bush touched,” he said, explaining that when Bush reached past him to shake someone’s hand, “His arm was bumping the top of my shoulder.”
He proposed on the Fourth of July on the White House lawn as the Star Spangled Banner played.
“He didn’t kneel,” she said.
“She was looking at me with the fireworks going off behind me,” he said.
Now married six years, Lt. Cols. Jay Chapman, 38, and Kris Kramarich, 40, hold a highly unusual and what they say is a privileged position: She’s the new 44th Signal Battalion commander, he’s the new 72nd Signal Battalion commander — “sister battalions” of 500 solders each within the 7th Signal Brigade, part of the Fifth Signal Command. Moreover, they are the only two tactical signal battalion commanders remaining in Europe.
“This is the most amazing assignment,” he said.
“It’s not typical to put couples in the same unit,” she said.
“There’s the concern we’d be competing against each other,” he said.
But they’ve agreed that whatever happens from here on out — if one is promoted while the other is not — is gravy.
“We both came into the Army thinking we’d do our minimum (required service) and get out,” he said. “But I liked what I was doing too much. We both did. You get sucked in to the family of the Army, the excitement.”
“The mission,” she added.
The two unpretentious, unofficious officers say that they’re a bit of a two-fer for the brigade, with both working more closely than most battalion commanders would be able to, to move the mission ahead.
In Mannheim less than a month, the couple has already had a barbecue with the top officers and noncommissioned officers from their commands as a way for them to get to know one another and work together.
If there are conflicts ahead between the two commands — “There may be some resource tug-of-wars,” he said — the two have already agreed to make decisions on what’s best for the greatest number of soldiers. “We owe it to our soldiers to put them first,” Chapman said.
Both say they were drawn to the signal corps by its immediate impact. “There’s no way to fake communications,” he said. “You either have a dial tone or you don’t.”
Both were ROTC cadets who joined for the college scholarship — she studied electrical engineering; he, computer science — but came to love military life. “I joined for the money but I stayed for the people and the sense of accomplishment in doing the mission,” he said.
The two had served 11 years before they got married, both putting a lot of time into their careers, and say being a dual military-career couple has its advantages.
“We come home, and we get it,” Chapman said. “We can tackle problem-solving together.”
But who does the cooking?
“He’s a good barbecuer,” Kramarich said.
“She makes great soup,” Chapman said.
And a housekeeper cleans up after the couple’s two dogs, which were added to the family after the couple had served a year in Iraq, in separate units, in 2003.
This fall, Kramarich is to deploy to Iraq again with her battalion. It will be the longest separation for the two since they’ve been married. “We command sister battalions but we have very different roads ahead,” Chapman said.