Jeremy and Renae Hilton were both active duty military when their first child was born 17 years ago with special needs. One of them had to step back from their career to provide full-time care for their daughter, and Jeremy decided it would be him. He left the Navy while Renae continued her Air Force career, making him one of a small but growing number of male military spouses.
"I have a child who has these needs. That's my new mission. I had a Navy mission. Now I have a family mission," says Hilton, whose daughter Kate was born with hydrocephalus, requiring years of therapy and surgeries.
Just like "military wives" have always done, military husbands keep the home fires burning, support their active duty spouses and do the often-thankless work of caring for their families on the home front. As women pursue military careers in growing numbers, their husbands are redefining what it means to be a military spouse.
"I had a Navy mission. Now I have a family mission."
"For any male military spouses out there, my first recommendation is to have a sense of humor about yourself," says Chris Field, husband of Lt. Col. Amy Field. "If you can't laugh about your status as the 'army wife,' you're going to have a tough go at it."
As a stay-at-home dad to four kids, Field says he is most proud that he creates conditions in which his wife can flourish.
“I think at last count about 7% of military spouses were males," Field said. "And that number is going to increase. The military spouses community has been wonderful. Military and army wives clubs are now Army spouse clubs."
Another male military spouse, Reggie Brown, says, "When one's in the army, your whole family serves."
His wife, Capt. Naadira Brown, has served in the U.S. Army for 19 years.
When asked if their kids appreciate that their family dynamic is special, Capt. Brown says, "They get to see us working together as a team."
As military spouses, all three dads say teamwork is fundamental.
"I was a brand new caregiver trying to figure out how I do this... All the while, I'm hearing about what my wife is doing downrange. I'm worried about her and she is worried about us."
And all three families have endured some of the sacrifices familiar to all military families, like frequent relocation and the stress of deployment and separation.
Only a year after their daughter was born, Renee Hilton, now a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, was deployed to Kuwait.
"I was a brand new caregiver trying to figure out how I do this by myself," says Jeremy Hilton. "All the while, I'm hearing about what my wife Renee is doing downrange. I'm worried about her and she is worried about us. There's a lot of stress involved in that."
"She is brave and tough and whatever the needs of the Army are, that is what she is going to be doing."
While Amy Field has not deployed overseas during her time in the military, the family knows that is always an option with her career.
"(Amy) is an army veterinarian, but first and foremost she is a soldier and any day she could receive orders to go downrange and provide animal care for working dogs in the heat of battle," says Chris Field. "She is brave and tough and whatever the needs of the Army are, that is what she is going to be doing."
Every military spouse, regardless of their gender, endures the hardships that come with service. Capt. Brown says she owes her Army career to her husband.
"I probably would have been separated from the Army had he not been there with me," Brown says. "I am extremely proud and honored and humbled by everything that Reggie is and that Reggie does for our family."