RICHMOND, Va. — U.S. Air Force Maj. Jonathan Patterson and U.S. Army Sgt. Mark Patterson knew within the early stages of their respective careers that military service was the right fit for them. The couple joined their respective branches about a decade apart, Maj. Patterson first, in early 2001, and Sgt. Patterson later, in 2011. The decade between their entry into the military saw a drastic change in policy toward members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“It’s wasn’t even in my head at all,” said Sgt. Patterson, on the Department of Defense’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was lifted the same year he joined the Army. “Everything that was in my head was just this is what I want to do, I’m excited.”
In contrast, for the first ten years of Maj. Patterson’s military career, the policy prohibited him from openly disclosing his sexuality.
“It was extremely difficult,” he said. “Even when ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ was repealed, I was still very apprehensive of letting people know.”
Maj. Patterson initially enlisted into the Hawaii Air National Guard as a maintainer. He attended the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and commissioned as a maintenance officer after completing Officer Candidate School in 2010.
At around the same time, Sgt. Patterson, who was born and raised in the Phillippines, was moving closer to his long-term goal of military service. He said it was something he’d always wanted to do and finally, at 26, he joined the U.S. Army as a 35P Cryptologic Linguist. His first duty station was in Hawaii.
“It was a friend,” Sgt. Patterson said on how the couple met. He was attending training and befriended a cadre member, a fellow Filipino. “And that’s when he said, ‘You know what, I know somebody, also military, I think you should meet with him.’”
The two hit it off and a few years later, they married in California. A few years after that, they started down a path that would lead them to parenthood.
“It was a very long process,” said Maj. Patterson. He said his mother and husband led the charge in researching surrogacy options and the process took the couple multiple years and multiple surrogates. With two embryos left, the couple put all their hope on their third surrogate and, in 2017, the couple welcomed twins, a boy and a girl. Both Maj. and Sgt. Patterson were able to be there for the birth of their twins, who were born in Nevada where their surrogate lived.
Citing high living costs in Hawaii, the couple started looking at options on the mainland. A contact in Virginia led Maj. Patterson to a job in Virginia and he made the move first. Sgt. Patterson followed later, after making the decision to leave active duty in order to join his husband on the East Coast.
“I was like, I have kids, I can just focus on the kids and raise them,” Sgt. Patterson said of leaving active duty. “But once you put on the uniform, you already know in your head that this is what you want to do for your career.”
It was evident that Sgt. Patterson was missing the military, so Maj. Patterson, a long-time member of the National Guard, sat him down and suggested the National Guard. That, the two said, made sense, and Maj. Patterson was able to swear Sgt. Patterson into the National Guard shortly thereafter.
Today, both serve in the Virginia National Guard. Maj. Patterson serves full-time as the Virginia National Guard’s Deputy Human Resources Officer and Sgt. Patterson recently accepted an Active Guard/Reserve, or AGR, position at the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment.
The pair say being a dual military couple has unique challenges.
“Nothing is easy, just be patient with each other, that’s how relationships last,” Sgt. Patterson said. “For us, it’s trying to understand the other’s job, how busy we are, and it helps when you’re both military.”
On Pride Month, Maj. Patterson said it’s become more important to him over the years.
“It’s really started to hit home,” he said. “To look back and to see what we had to go through, so much has changed in your ability to serve and be married to the person you want to be married to. We can easily take for granted the rights and privileges we now have, but it is important to remember how things used to be and that is what Pride is about.”