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Aviano couple receives first same-sex join spouse assignment

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy (AFNS) -- They waited patiently each day, week and month checking the news, filing repeals and losing hope.

But, Master Sgt. Angela Shunk and Tech. Sgt. Stacy Shunk received the news they had been longing for on Sept. 3, 2013, when the two Aviano Airmen were informed that they had received an assignment together under the join spouse program - the first of its kind in the Air Force since a Supreme Court decision about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Prior to the June 26 decision, the Shunks were faced with the near certainty of separation. Their unit - the 603rd Air Control Squadron - had been slated for inactivation for summer 2013 causing the Air Force to reassign all of its Airmen. Although legally married in the state of New York on March, 17, 2012, DOMA prohibited the Department of Defense from extending benefits, such as join spouse assignment consideration, to same-sex spouses.

"Since our marriage wasn't recognized by federal government at the time, we submitted a request for an exception to policy," said Angela Shunk. "It came back as a no."

"We were hopeful throughout the whole process but with every no, it really seemed like it wasn't going to happen and we would be separated," Stacy Shunk added.
Closing in on the end of their scheduled tours in Italy, both Airmen volunteered for and were granted temporary positions within the wing, permitting them a short extension together at Aviano as they waited for potential assignment policy changes related to DOMA.

"Everyone knew what was going on and we received calls from leadership offering support," said Stacy Shunk. "They all wanted to help as much as they could, but they could only work within their means. They had to work within the policy."

"We were in a desperate place," Angela Shunk added. "We knew in our hearts we were going to get orders and that they were going to be in separate places. We had matching dream sheets, hoping we'd get picked up for the same location, but we didn't."

The orders came through, and as the couple had feared, they were headed to assignments nearly 3,000 miles apart. Master Sgt. Shunk received orders to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and Tech. Sgt. Shunk was going to Hickam AFB, Hawaii. Their final hope rested upon the Supreme Court, which was reviewing the constitutionality of DOMA.

"Since Supreme Court decisions come out every Thursday in June, we'd be waiting and watching the news, and every week it wasn't DOMA," said Angela Shunk. "Finally, in the last week, it was the DOMA decision, and we had [the television] on at work. On June 26, our marriage was federally acknowledged. We were ecstatic."

While the Shunks were now able to apply for an assignment together as a married couple, being stationed together was still not a guarantee. Air Force policy is to assign military couples together, when possible, to a location where they can live in the same residence. There has to be an existing slot in the rank or job that the members can be assigned against. In the Air Force, approximately 87 percent of dual military couples are assigned at the same installation or within the same zip code, according to the Air Force Personnel Center.

"We already had our paperwork filled out because we were watching the developments, and when the announcement came, we immediately went to update our information in the Military Personnel Data System," said Master Sgt. Shunk. "We had to adjust our information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, and reapply for join spouse. The same day, we received acknowledgment of our acceptance for a joint assignment."

Now, the couple is headed to Hill AFB - together.

"Once we were able to apply, it was just like any other couple applying for join spouse," said Angela Shunk. "They had to look at the assignment and see if positions were available for both of us to get assigned there. And that's what happened with us, and ultimately, she gave up Hawaii."

"That's love right there," joked Stacy Shunk.

For more information about assignment selection processes, visit the myPers website at https://mypers.af.mil and enter "assignments" in the search window.
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