Ava Martin, 49, has been an Army wife more than half her life. She met her husband, Colonel Jeremy Martin, when they were students at Grambling State University. It was love at first sight, and right after graduation they tied the knot. Her husband’s first active duty military assignment came just a few weeks after their wedding. They have two children, both born on military installations — one stateside and one overseas. “We made a decision a few years after the birth of our first child that I’d put my career on hold and take care of our family,” Martin tells us. “It took some getting used to, but we haven’t regretted that decision one bit.” Their son Jeremy Nicolas is now in college, and their daughter Rachel attends high school.

After 26 years as a military spouse, and with a whopping 14 moves under her belt, Martin has mastered the art of holding down her family and making marriage work. She prides herself on being an exemplary wife and mother and the pillar of their family. “At the end of the day, I married an Army officer,” says Martin. “It’s challenging, exciting, and not without sacrifice. But I love it, and God has been good to us.”

How does she do it? We sat down with Martin to discuss balancing love, life in the military and family. Her strength and devotion to her lifestyle and her husband’s passion are an inspiration.

ESSENCE.COM: People say the army is like one giant extended family. Would you agree?
AVA MARTIN: It’s a very special family. When we became a part of the Army family, I didn’t really know what to expect. I quickly learned that it’s about service and sacrifice. I’ve embraced being an Army wife because every place we’ve been, we’ve become a part of the community, and we’ve met a lot of military families. We’ve all supported each other.

ESSENCE.COM: What have been some of the biggest challenges for you?
MARTIN: Deployment would be one, because when Jeremy’s deployed, he’s away from home but things at home must continue. You can have a sick child or a car that breaks down or a driveway that needs to be shoveled — life just has to continue no matter what. It can be very challenging.

The kids sometimes don’t understand military life. I remember once when my husband was away and my daughter was in a Christmas play. He wasn’t able to attend and she didn’t really understand why her dad was in Afghanistan and he couldn’t be there. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to a 5-year-old that their father’s away. Those times you can’t get back. She understands better now, but when he’s away he misses anniversaries and big dates.

ESSENCE.COM: How many times has he deployed?
MARTIN: He’s been deployed quite a bit. He’s had one long deployment and a lot of shorter deployments. I would say about 10 or 12 maybe. He’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan supporting senior leaders. He was last deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.

ESSENCE.COM: What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about Army wives?
MARTIN: That we’re robots and we can’t think for ourselves, and also that we’re dependent on our husbands. We have the same life experiences as our spouses. They’re deployed serving our country and we’re here on the home front keeping things going, so we’re also serving. We have our own interests and desires, and we find a way to balance that.

ESSENCE.COM: What is it like having to start over each time you have to pick up and move to a new place?
MARTIN: I think it’s tougher on the children because leaving their school friends is a bigger adjustment for them. Attending new schools, making new friends; it’s all just harder on them. I think I adjust very well to it because of other people and their support, and because they’ve been through the same thing. After 15 moves you kind of learn as you go.

ESSENCE.COM: Is your husband planning on leaving the military any time soon?
MARTIN: It’s been 26 years, so in another three years or so he’ll have 30 years. We’ll transfer into a civilian community I’m sure. But, I think I’ll miss Army life. I have made a lot of friends, and I continue to make friends now. I’ve always kept in touch. I think I’ll miss the structure and the security of Army life, too.

ESSENCE.COM: What keeps you gong?
MARTIN: I believe in what I’m doing. My children need my support, and my husband needs my support as well. I serve along with my husband. We always support each other. My day starts about six in the morning. I get my daughter off to school and then I volunteer in the school, the church and with community activities. I keep my health and my family’s health going. I love being an Army wife. It’s been a sacrifice that I’ve embraced.