Couple Decide to Give Back to Their Country


Clearly, Jennifer and Derek Werner know their goals. It’s just that few people think the goals make any sense.

For instance, the husband and wife both have college degrees, jobs that, combined, grossed them $150,000 last year, and they own a house in Newport Beach worth $500,000.

So they enlisted in the Army.

“It was not a decision made overnight,” said Jennifer Werner, 29, who holds a degree in management psychology from Scripps College and was marketing medical products. “But the thought had been on our minds for a long time.”


Derek Werner added: “We are a little out of the norm, but we have always felt we were fortunate to be United States citizens and wanted to give something back to the country. So we joined the Army.”

Joining the enlisted ranks, rather than as officers, allowed them to pick their billets following basic training. Both were assigned to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., where they will learn the Polish language for a future assignment in military intelligence.

They both hold the rank of private 1st class.

The language school, also used by the CIA and the FBI, is considered the finest in the country, they said.

Eventually, both plan to enter officers training school and make the military a 20-year career.

“We picked the Army because they were the most accommodating in what we wanted and in keeping a husband and wife together,” said Derek Werner, 30, who holds an MBA in marketing and finance from Claremont Men’s College and was working as a real estate developer in Newport Beach before his enlistment.

The toughest part, both agreed, was basic training in South Carolina’s Ft. Jackson.

“I’m 30 and the younger recruits called us grandma and grandpa, despite the fact we prepared ourselves physically,” he said. “It was more trying to us on a maturity level. Some of the 18-year-olds wanted to talk all night and that was a little tough on us.”


They tried to keep things low-key. “We kept a low profile for the first 6 weeks until the base paper printed a story about us,” he said.

“The recruits couldn’t believe we left our income to join the Army, and our surprise was that they were all so focused on money, so much that they even placed it ahead of their spouse, family and the nation. They couldn’t understand why we wanted to give something back to our country.”

Derek Werner said his drill sergeant asked if the story was true and that his annual family income had been $150,000. “I told him it was all true and I added that money wasn’t everything. He answered: ‘To me it is.’ ”

They both said that belief is different from the feelings they hold. “This is really a transformation and radically different from the American values of the past,” Jennifer Werner said. “It seems the younger people are self-focused and selfish.”

The Werners said they learned an appreciation for the United States from what they saw in their previous travels, which have taken them to 60 countries, part of it on a 6-month honeymoon after their marriage 4 years ago.

“I quote (President) Kennedy a lot of times because he had a lot to say in that little quote of contributing of yourself to your country in some little way,” she said.


For some, April 18 is a special day. For instance, Christie Smith Bibeau of Corona del Mar was born on April 18, the same day as her father, Haviland V. Smith, 74, of Newport Beach.

So wouldn’t you know it, she gave birth to son, Scott Robert Bibeau, on April 18.

“When the birthday comes around, We’ll have a family celebration,” Bibeau said.

The guest list at “Fire Service Recognition Day” at the Fullerton Headquarters Fire Station on May 13 will certainly be less colorful than the special visitors.

For instance, Pluggie the Talking Fire Hydrant will walk around with Smokey the Bear to chat about fire safety to anyone who will listen.

And Little John, a restored 1941 white fire engine on loan from the Orange County Firemen’s Assn., will give free rides at the 11 a.m. event.