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Modern Life: Two Women Balancing Marriage, Motherhood and the Military

Jaden, 3; Renea Zachary, 37, C-5 M loadmaster/airlift control planner, Air Force Reserve; Soren, 7 months; Yakita Zachary, 41, section chief of Maintenance Management Analysis, Active Duty Air Force; and Zendarra, 1. 

In this crazy world, finding someone you love and want to share the rest of your life with is a blessing, not something you should have to hide. But until the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law in 2010, Renea and Yakita Zachary, both members of the military, had to keep their relationship under the radar. The two met at a party with friends in 2009, when they were stationed in England. Renea was shy, so as the music started playing, Yakita came and danced in front of her to make her laugh and feel comfortable. “I did laugh, of course,” Renea says. The pair began dating after three weeks and were an established couple a few months later. They married in August 2013.

Both women joined the military so they could explore new places. “I joined in 1996, and Renea started in 2003,” says Yakita. “I wanted to experience life and see the world outside of what I knew growing up in New York City. I wanted to travel to different countries, learn a craft and have a career.”

Renea was looking for a way to excel too. She found the opportunities for education, training and acquiring new skills very appealing. “I’ve also become a little better at dealing with different personalities, and I’ve grown as a person as well as a supervisor,” she adds. “I’ve learned a lot about handling huge responsibilities and how to manage stress—although I’m still working on that one!”

The military has shown Yakita that everyone has a role to play, “so be reliable—you are part of a bigger team.” And Yakita and Renea, along with their three children, certainly are a team. When asked about their kids, Renea lights up. “Oh, the fun part! Jaden is a riot. A little moody sometimes, but he is a gentleman and a sweetheart. Zendarra just turned one last May and is a total spitfire. She has been vocal and lively since the day she was born. She’s feisty and super strong—like freakishly strong,” Renea says. “The last one is our newest little guy, Soren. He got off to a rough start in life with pyloric stenosis [a digestive condition], but he had corrective surgery and is doing great. He began smiling early, like at three weeks. Now he smiles at everyone.”

“We spend a lot of time together as a family and we do it with good humor—we can make a trip to Sam’s Club fun!” —Yakita

As a gay interracial couple, Renea and Yakita could have faced some resistance from friends and relatives, but the women consider themselves fortunate. “Our friends are pretty much either in the same situation or don’t care. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be friends with them,” says Renea. “My family’s toughest battle was dealing with me being gay. It was difficult at first, but most have come around.” They aren’t concerned about who she’s with as long as she is happy and successful. “Just about everyone was aware of our relationship and didn’t have a problem with it, but we had to protect our livelihood. Now most relatives don’t have any issues and if they do, they don’t vocalize them to me,” she adds.

Yakita has also found her people to be supportive. “My family is inclusive. Even my extended family—cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. They’ve all welcomed Renea into the fold.”

Renea says the biggest challenge she faces in her career is being away from her wife and kids. “I have to fly to earn a living, but I miss them.” Things will soon be easier for the couple when Yakita retires in 2018. “I’ve given 21 years of my life to the military. I’m ready to close this chapter and become a full-time mom.” She wants their kids to be happy and true to themselves. “My wish is for them to have dreams and aspirations, and not let the evils and troubles of this world dim their sunshine.”

“Our relationship began before DADT got repealed, so it started out as a secret. It was demeaning having to call her my roommate.” —Renea

What do you love most about each other? Anything that drives you crazy?

I love that Yakita knows me completely—and knows how to deal with me! She remembers what I forget. She cooks, takes care of our family, is faithful and loves hard. Things that drive me crazy? Little stuff, like taking my phone charger; moving things that I keep in the same place so I know where they are; not being able to find her keys because she lives in the moment and just throws them somewhere when she gets home. —Renea

There are lots of things I love about Renea, like her sincerity. Her kindness and good nature are what made me fall in love with her. She can look at the good side in any situation. What drives me crazy is her stubbornness—she's working on it, though! —Yakita

What lessons have you learned from being in the military?

While it’s important for people to establish their own sense of identity, it’s not something to do while working in the military. You’re part of a bigger team. It's also taught me to pay attention to details. I will continue to take the Air Force’s core values to heart: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all you do. —Yakita

Have there been frightening moments in your career, and has being a parent heightened them?

Anything that threatens my livelihood scares me, but being a parent has taken fear to a whole new level. Being responsible for the financial and overall well-being of children means that it’s not just me or me and my wife that I have to worry about. —Renea

I don’t recall any truly frightening moments in my career. But as a mom, this world and my children's safety in it frighten me. —Yakita

What are you most proud of?

Becoming a mom and a wife, and knowing that my parents are proud of me. —Yakita