Diana Ives has served alongside her husband for 32 years
Story and photo by Rona S. Hirsch Staff writer
She was only 19 and had never been away from her family.
But in 1973, Diana Ives left her home in El Paso, Texas with her new husband, a handsome young sergeant who was her high school sweetheart, for Fort Bragg, N.C. After the long drive in her dad's overhauled, 1958 Ford pick-up, the newlyweds moved into a small trailer so run-down that the cabinets had no flooring.
The next morning, her husband was called on a mission. He said he thought he would be home for dinner. He didn't return for five months. "There was no food in the house," she said. "So I ventured outside and heard this voice. I started crying."
The neighbor who called to her showed her around post and took her to the commissary. Pretty soon she landed a job, fixed up the trailer and even picked out a puppy. "I had my own life going," she said.
\For the past 32 years, Diana Ives has shown that same pluck and determination, bent on creating a life for herself as a military spouse that is supportive of her driven husband yet independent. She has been a teacher and social services volunteer - all while raising their two sons and enduring long separations from her husband.
And she didn't just cope. She thrived, determined to embrace every new assignment as an adventure, offer support to other military spouses and lend a hand wherever needed. Throughout, she remained devoted to her husband. Not merely the woman behind the man, she has always stood right beside him, as recognizable on post as her husband, Col. John W. Ives.
"We are a team," said Diana Ives, 51. "John and I have been a team from day one. You don't let your teammate down, no matter what."
As the installation commander's wife, Diana Ives regularly attended military functions and served as an adviser to support groups and the Officers' Wives' Club (OWC).
"She is a great friend," said Debbie Hovatter, a former OWC board member. "She brought experience to the table, but was able to let people do their job. She had an open phone and was able to make things happen. And it didn't matter what the rank of the husband - you are a person, you are important to her."
Diana Ives' volunteer service was recognized June 10 with the Lifetime Volunteer award by the Army Community Service (ACS) at Fort Meade's annual Volunteer Recognition Award Ceremony.
"She truly cares about Fort Meade families," said Jamie Cole, ACS director. "She would help whoever she saw in need. She would be there helping before you ever had to ask. And she was a delight to work with. She has a great sense of humor and is a wonderful listener."
Warm and personable, Diana Ives has a quick wit and candor, and is as open about the couple's humble roots as she is about her pride in her husband's achievements. The couple will celebrate their 32nd anniversary the same day as his change of command, June 30.
"I've been with my husband over the long haul," said Diana Ives, a grandmother of two. "That man can do anything he puts his mind to. I knew he would never let us down, would always make sure we would have a roof over our heads, food on the table and a lot of love to go around. I never knew him to fail anything. He's a good man."
Born in Indianapolis, Diana Ives grew up in the military. Her father, Donald, now deceased, retired as a sergeant 1st class at the White Sands Missile Range outside Fort Bliss, Texas.
She dated her husband, who is one year younger, after a get-together she threw for her junior class. Then 16, she had a crush on a classmate - Col. Ives' older brother, Mackey.
"Mackey drove his baby brother over," she said. "And this little kid kept following me around and said, 'Dance with me.' I said, 'If I dance with you, will you leave me alone?' and he said, 'Yes.' He sort of grew on me. We fell in love. Other people say to John, 'You didn't keep your promise.' But he says, 'Oh yes I did. We're still dancing."
The colonel, who said he was "kind of a wild guy," pursued the pretty blond because of her humor. "That's what really drove me to her - her keen intellect and sense of humor," he said. "Diana was funny, voted most witty in high school. Everyone advised me not to keep up."
While Diana Ives studied elementary education at the University of Texas at El Paso in 1972, John Ives enlisted. Six months later, on Christmas Eve, he proposed. "(Diana's) Dad said, 'There goes my hunting buddy.' I was his shadow. I fixed cars with him," she said.
A crack shot, both she and her older sister, Donna, were invited to join the traveling International Rifle Team of the Army Marksmanship Unit when the family lived in Germany. But her father declined - Donna was only 13 and Diana was 11.
She kept her marksmanship from her new boyfriend until he tried to teach her how to hold a rifle and she shot a water jug dead center at 100 yards - twice. "John went into the car and didn't talk to me for two weeks," she recalled laughing.
After they were engaged, her father offered her beau, who only owned a motorcycle, a dowry of sorts. "Dad said, "I got $300 cash and a truck," she said. "It's yours even if you walk away. John said, 'Sir, I really love your daughter.' Dad put on four brand new tires so we could make it to Fort Bragg."
The couple married June 30, 1973. She was 19 and he was 18. "They were very mature," said Diana Ives' mother, Joan Schmalfeldt. "I watched him from the time he was our paper boy through high school courting Diana. John and Diana both worked very hard to get where they are. Her dad and I laid a foundation. What she built on it is a credit to her. And that's the same thing for John."
While he attended the University of Texas, where he took classes in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) after leaving the service in 1979, Diana Ives helped her husband juggle numerous jobs while expecting their second child, Jacob.
During his first duty officer assignment in Hawaii, he left the family there after three months. "I said, 'If you're going to take us somewhere and dump us, you might as well dump us in Paradise,'" she recalled. "I never knew when he was coming home, but we lived our lives."
She also encouraged homesick wives. "People complained they were lonely, missed their family back home," she said. "I said, 'You got your family right here. You will never make it in the Army. You're making everyone miserable. And if you are doing this in Hawaii, then you will do this everywhere. You've got kids to raise. You've got a life to live.'"
During her husband's deployment to Kuwait, Diana Ives offered to babysit so Jacob would have a playmate before and after kindergarten. For the next five years, she babysat Heather Leiby, who married Jacob last August.
She also worked as social services volunteer, going into homes to make sure the children were eating right and the house was childproof. "Sometimes I was the only adult these women had to talk to," she said.
When Col. Ives was assigned a battalion command in Korea, she made a proposition to Jacob, who insisted he stay behind to attend his junior year in high school. "I said, 'You have two choices. You could go and like it or you could go and hate it.' About an hour later he said, 'I decided to like it.'"
Together, they surfed the Internet to learn about Korea and toured right after they arrived. "We got lost, had a lot of fun," she said. "But it wasn't long before he found friends."
For two years, she was a substitute teacher at the Seoul American High School. She also tended to the military families - making sure they had evacuation packets, dealt with housing problems or just helped when someone was lonely.
"I was Mom," she said. "It was the right thing to do, to take care of them. There was no family readiness program. We knew what it was like not to have that and didn't want someone to feel lost, all alone in the world, that nobody cares."
From 2000-2001, when they returned to Virginia,
Diana Ives worked as a long-term substitute and then taught full-time seventh grade history in Fairfax County schools.
She retired when Col. Ives attended the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. She took a course there on FLAGS - facilitating leadership and group skills - and became an instructor for the spouses. "It taught me a lot about the different personalities," she said. "It was invaluable before coming here."
As movers descend on her home, Diana Ives, as always, is looking forward. This time, it's to their new life in Florida as civilians.
"I am always excited - who am I going to meet, what am I going to do?" she said. "It's been an awesome 32 years, an adventure. Think of all we've done, all the people we met, all the activities we've been involved with. The Army has afforded us a wonderful life."
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