MICHAEL AND KENYA BERRY HAVE BALANCED THE SCALE WHEN IT COMES TO KEEPING A MARRIAGE STRONG AND HAVING VERY DEMANDING CAREERS.

 

Mixing love and business is challenging for most couples, but when the business is serving in the United States Army as a young, dual military couple (meaning husband and wife are active duty members), the challenge can seem insurmountable.

In the beginning, many told them they were too young for marriage and had the odds stacked against them. Brushing off the naysayers, they are still in love and still together 26 years later and married almost 24 years despite high divorce rates among military couples. With faith, love, and commitment to each other, family, and service to their country, Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Michael Berry and Sergeant Major (SGM) Kenya Berry have successfully merged marriage and parenting their two sons with military service. This couple seems to have it all: a strong and successful marriage, careers they both love, two handsome and well-rounded sons that any parent would be proud of, and an abundance of supportive family and friends.

     CSM Michael Berry is currently serving as Garrison Command Sergeant Major United States Army Garrison Area I and Camp Red Cloud, South Korea and at a separate base than is his wife. When asked what keeps their marriage together and strong, he shares that love and trust are what makes their marriage a success. Michael states, “Nothing is stronger than true love and trust. You can’t just say it. You have to feel it and believe it.” He continues with, “The military places all types of obstacles in a couple’s path. We get separated on assignments, we have to deploy, we often work closely with the opposite sex, and on occasions, you may spend more time with that person or group of people than with your spouse. If love is the foundation then, trust has to be one of the pillars.”

     SGM Kenya Berry is currently a Senior Logistics Service Advisor, stationed at Yongsan Military Base, South Korea. When it comes to sharing the secrets of a successful marriage, Kenya is quick to say, “There is no secret. We experienced trials and tribulations as in any marriage but our faith, love, and refusal to fail have allowed us to overcome all obstacles. Being in the military itself is a full-time job. And, with both of us being active-duty military and having to juggle our family and careers, it’s not always easy. We owe much of our success to those who supported us and are always there for us.” 

     Their love story began at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, Georgia. Both were nineteen years old. Michael was a ROTC Cadet who was quiet, serious, and very focused when it came to his future plans for a military career. Kenya, who was very outgoing and a people-person, was from Milledgeville, and attending college there. They had mutual friends but Cupid was definitely not working to put these two together. Both admit that there was no initial attraction to the other. Kenya reflects back saying, “I didn’t really like him because he appeared to have a standoffish attitude. But, to be fair I think it was more about him being an introvert and I’m more of an extrovert.” According to Michael, “We actually absolutely didn’t get along when we first met and I think that was more about who would give in first. A good friend kept at us, had us go out on a date, and here we are today.”

     Keeping marriage and family a top priority is difficult for most couples with demanding jobs or careers. For those who are soldiers and are married to another soldier, situations are more unique. The Berrys have made their relationship and marriage work despite challenges not normally faced by civilian married couples. “The odds are stacked against marriage of dual military couples most of the time and divorce stats hovers over,” says Michael. He continues with, “A couple’s commitment is tested often with deployment separations, the job of taking care of soldiers and their problems, frequent permanent change of station (PCS moves), leadership responsibilities along with the responsibility of having to take care of our own family, especially our kids, handling our personal business, and being there for each other. The military job does not end when you go home. You still have soldiers and missions to think about as well.” When it comes to challenges, Kenya speaks about providing stability on the home front for their sons. “We’ve been blessed and many prayers were answered. We never wanted both of us to be gone or deployed away from our boys at the same time. We only had one situation that took both of us away. I was stationed in Korea and Michael was deployed to Afghanistan. We are very thankful for a wonderful and trusted friend that cared for our children for the year that we were away.” Michael added, “For the sake of their stability, we purchased a home for them and the friend to live in. It was extremely stressful initially, but we all got through it. Again, love is the foundation with the pillars being trust, commitment, passion, time, and covering it all with faith.”

   It is often said that children of military members are affected by the separation of one or both parents in much the same way that children of divorced parents are affected. The Berrys share how they effectively parent their children while honoring their military duties. Michael stated, “Sure, separations affected our boys but they are resilient. You must spend time with your children, let them know you love them, that you care how they feel, and you must be involved with what they are doing.” It was a very difficult time for the Berrys when they lost an infant son. Sadly, Michael said, “Having lost a child at birth you realize it’s not about you. It’s about your kids. There is no greater responsibility than being a father and raising good, productive, and educated citizens.” Kenya agrees that their boys are resilient but, still they kept in touch with them and set routines in place when possible. “We still parented them even when we were away,” said Kenya. She continued with, “We made every effort to call, text, or Skype everyday if possible. I usually called during breakfast so I could talk as they ate. It was like having breakfast with them. I watched grades online, I continued to discipline as if I was there. It was business as usual, just far away.”  They both deny having any guilty feelings about being away from their children when military duty calls. “It’s hard on all of us when it is time to leave but everyone understands that this is what we do,” said Kenya. Michael adds, “One of the most important rules we live by is that we can’t feel guilty about doing our jobs. Military is our profession. We provide for our family and we serve this nation giving it our best. There is nothing to feel guilty about.”

     Both, Michael and Kenya proclaimed that their children are their greatest personal accomplishments and their successes in the Army as their greatest professional accomplishments. They made a career of being in the Army because of the life they wanted for their children. Their eldest son, Kenyon Berry attended college on an academic scholarship and is expected to graduate in May 2017 from University of Kentucky with a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Systems Management with a focus in Construction Management. Their younger son, Kristian is in the 8th grade and doing well in a Department of Defense (DOD) school, living in Korea with his parents and plays youth basketball. They are very proud of their sons and their accomplishments, too. Professionally, Michael and Kenya had accomplished the highest grade of an enlisted Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) in the Army with only the Command Sergeant Major of the Army ranking higher than Michael as an NCO. Michael said, “Professionally, I’ve been blessed; truly blessed. I’ve done pretty much everything (Airborne, a Ranger, and now a garrison Command Sergeant Major) that I set out to accomplish.” Having higher education is important to both of them and is an example for their children. Michael is currently working on a graduate degree from Troy University. Kenya is very proud of how far she had come in her career. She worked extremely hard to become a Sergeant Major, a rank that less than one percent of active duty, enlisted members ever attain. She also finished college with a Master’s of Art and Human Services degree with a focus on Health and Wellness from Liberty University.

     When it comes to the two of them, their love and commitment is apparent and admirable. Kenya responds with, “He is the man of my dreams, my love, my protector, my soulmate. He always encouraged me and looked after me.” Michael adds, “She’s the love of my life. She has my back, and is always very supportive of me. Her contributions are what make me who I am today.” As his final advice to others, Michael tells us, “Never forget who your team is.” They definitely are “Team Berry.”

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