This year to celebrate Valentine's Day we are focusing on the partners of RAF personnel – the stalwarts of the RAF family. In this blog post we hear from Christopher Leader who balances a busy role in the City while supporting his partner, Mark, who is chief of staff at RAF Benson.
Mark and I met on a skiing holiday in Italy in September 2002, and we held our civil partnership in October 2006 at RAF Odiham.
Mark has been in the RAF for 23 years and was an air cadet from the age of 14.
He's now a wing commander and his current role is chief of staff and deputy commander of RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.
We have recently moved into RAF Benson. This is my first experience of living in forces' accommodation since meeting Mark and we have both settled in well.
I work for an American Bank in London, so I stay in London through the week and always look forward to returning to Benson at weekends.
It can be very worrying at times when Mark is deployed. This was particularly stressful during his Iraq and Afghan deployments, but you learn to cope with it.
I have the support of a fantastic family, close friends and understanding employers so this all helps me manage these periods better.
We have been extremely fortunate that Mark has not, as yet, been deployed over Christmas, but we have spent many Valentine’s days apart and he will be on deployment again this Valentines!
On average we have lived apart for as much as 40% of the last 10 years. This can be incredibly tough for us both.
I'm always hugely relieved and very excited when he returns from deployment.
I always try to meet him at Brize Norton on his return and like any reunion in these circumstances it can often be quite emotional.
Even though the RAF has fully embraced change and acceptance of same-sex couples, there are still occasions at functions where people have assumed my shortened name 'Chris' refers to a woman rather than a man.
The expression on some people’s faces when I turn up is quite a sight to behold! We always have a good laugh about it afterwards.
There have been numerous occasions when I have felt proud of Mark but the most exceptional one for me was when he was awarded his MBE from The Queen. I am also very proud of his achievements on improving diversity and equality in the RAF and in the military.
I am immensely proud of the UK's armed forces and I have always had a great deal of respect and admiration for the work they do. On a personal level, our relationship has never hindered our ability to be accepted within the RAF family and if anything we are both proud to demonstrate the RAF's willingness to be wholly inclusive and adaptable to change.
By Christopher Leader