For better or worse
Married couple shares life, mission

Capt. Erin Dorrance
Kaiserslautern American

Most couples usually spend anniversaries, birthdays and Valentine’s Day
at a candlelit dinner. Captains Dan and Sarah Santoro are a little
different, however; they usually spend their big days together in
deployed locations throughout Southwest Asia.

***image1***Since they started flying for operational squadrons in 2003, the couple has spent 1,070 days deployed supporting the Global War on Terrorism. All of the deployments have been together, although the definition of “together” takes on a different meaning during deployments.

“There is no privacy during deployments,” said Dan, 37th Airlift Squadron C-130 pilot. “It is like having dinner with your wife, and the whole squadron is sitting at the table with you.” 

The Santoros sleep in different tents or buildings and enjoy occasional walks to catch up on each other’s lives when they are not flying or in crew rest.

“We work 18-hour days and sometimes don’t get to see each other for a week or two,” said Sarah, 37th AS C-130 pilot. 

The couple, who met at the U.S. Air Force Academy and wed in October 2001, always knew they wanted to be pilots. Dan’s father took him to the Air Force Academy when he was 4, which jump-started his dreams of flight. Sarah earned her private pilot’s license by the time she was 17. 

Soon after the couple earned their pilot wings, they experienced a surge of deployments.

Their first deployment began on Valentine’s Day in 2003 from Pope Air Force Base, N.C. The year continued with two more deployments that added up to 10 months of deployment time during the first year, said Dan. 

The Santoros said they are lucky to have a squadron that allows them to deploy together and friends and family who assist them when they are gone.
“We have two dogs that are like our children,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to have dogs if we didn’t have great people in our lives to help us out.” 

The Santoros, who have earned 12 air medals, said when they are home they enjoy walking their dogs, Molly and Roxy, through the German trails and traveling around Europe. 

When the Santoros are not deployed, they spend months TDY attending schools, flying home-based missions and training. 

“We move from location to location with boxes that are never unpacked,” said Dan. 

Just as the operations tempo does not slow down, neither will the Santoros.

“We’ll continue to deploy as long as the mission calls for it,” said Dan.