Mil-to-mil Defenders support each other through thick and thin

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

“Being mil-to-mill security forces is probably the toughest thing we’ve ever dealt with in our lives, but it’s doable,” said Staff Sgt. Heather Ricks, 423rd Security Forces Squadron assistant flight sergeant. “It can get stressful, but you gotta look at the bright side — I’m healthy, my husband’s healthy, and my kids are healthy.”

Staff Sgts. Heather and Derek Ricks met in high school in Texas. Derek was born in Texarkana, Texas, and Heather was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, but they consider Mount Vernon, Texas, to be their hometown. 

“If you ask anybody, it’s the best small town you could ever live in,” said Staff Sgt. Derek Ricks, 423rd SFS noncommissioned officer in charge of police services. “I come from a line of mechanics, basically people who do what they can to make it to the next payday. After working as a diesel mechanic at the steel mill for about a year, I knew I wanted something different. I told my dad to send me to a recruiter.”

Heather’s entire family is part of the military. Her mom was in the Marines, dad and brother were in the Army and another brother is in the Air Force.

“I decided to join because I wanted to follow in their footsteps,” said Heather.

 The couple will soon celebrate six years since they tied the knot. 

“We got married March 21, 2015, two days before I left for basic training,” Heather chuckled. “My recruiter wasn’t very happy.”

Derek joined in 2014, and his new bride joined him just four months later. Their first duty location was in Japan. Shortly before leaving for RAF Alconbury, the Ricks discovered they were awaiting their firstborn. Rylan came into this world on Friday the 13th, April 2018. Their second son, Marcus, was born Sept. 30, 2019. 

Despite their strong bond, being married to another cop in the military can have its challenges.

“I like comparing being married mil-to-mil to the military,” said Derek. “You have a goal. You join the military for a reason, and then all these curveballs start happening. You don’t get to your goal right away, but you know it’s something you want to do. So you avoid obstacles and continue pressing forward. You just gotta roll with the punches. That’s how the marriage is. Being mil to mil, there’s curveballs left and right, obstacles you have to hop over and duck under. You just gotta keep pressing through, because you know it’s worth it in the end.”

The Ricks are unique in the 423rd SFS, as the only mil-to-mil essential working couple with children, that works as security forces shift workers. Daycare has been a challenge, especially during COVID-19. The base Child Development Center does not always accommodate shift workers.

“We’re at work before they open, and they close before we get off for the night, so we sacrifice time together for our kids to be taken care of while we’re at work,” said Heather.

Each spouse said it's important to separate work life from family life, but sometimes having a partner who understands the career field can provide support in tough situations. 

“You have to be a people helper, but also, you have to be able to flip the switch and know when things aren’t going right,” said Derek. “You have a job to do. We’ve actually been in positions where we’ve had friends arrested, and we were on the other side, we were at work watching them be arrested. And that’s just tough.”

Although they haven’t been on a proper date in years, the Ricks value spending quality time together, doing activities that bring them closer and keep the spark alive. 

“We’re not a typical marriage, we don’t do things that typical people do,” said Derek. “We find that we click working on cars, or trying different recipes, or learning a new song on guitar, or whatever. We both find that connection kind of intimate. That’s what keeps the spark alive for us.”

“The time we do get to spend as a family is amazing,” said Heather. “The smiles, the giggling, the ‘I miss/love you mommy!.’ We’re working to give them a better life. No matter how hard it gets, I know my kids are being taken care of. They will only be little once, so I’m soaking it all up as much as I can, even if that means I miss sleep to spend a few more minutes with them.”