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SFC Azelia Sims, left, and her husband, SFC Noble Sims retired from the Army after more than 20 years service, each. Noble Sims wears his drill sergeant hat from his four years at Ft. Jackson, S.C. Both retired from the Army.

If it wasn't for the Army, Azelia and Noble Sims would have never met.

Army Sgt. Azelia Hailey, of Southern Pines, N.C., was a unit ministry team sergeant in charge — or chaplain assistant — during much of her career, and Army Sgt. Noble Sims, of Chattanooga, was a combat engineer.

They both deployed several times to several countries, though Hailey's career was more focused on humanitarian duties while Sims' career was more combat-involved.

As chaplain assistant, one of Hailey's responsibilities was to protect the chaplain, as only the assistants carry weapons. One of her deployments was to Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy in September 1994.

"We were in the air, going into a hostile — you know, we thought we were going to war," she said. "We were locked and loaded, flak vest on, real ammo."

Hailey said they didn't know that while they were in the air negotiations between U.S. and Haitian leaders led to a shift in objective. Instead of a hostile entry, it became a peaceful humanitarian effort.

Once they landed and realized the 82nd Airborne Division had been turned around mid-air, there was a lot of confusion and fear until an official notified them of the change, she said.

Bio:

Names: Azelia and Noble Sims

Ages: Both 53

Home: Chattanooga

Military branch and rank: both U.S. Army, sergeant first class

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SFC Azelia Sims, left, and her husband, SFC Noble Sims retired from the Army after more than 20 years service, each. Noble Sims wears his drill sergeant hat from his four years at Ft. Jackson, S.C. Both retired from the Army.

Hailey spent just under six months in Haiti, and while there, she and her chaplain helped with orphanages and started a program called Waste Not Want Not. Through the program, they donated all uneaten ready-to-eat meals after an approval process and a liaison to make sure the children could eat it without becoming sick.

"When I left Haiti, my boss and I, we left with just the clothes on our back," she said. "We gave them everything that we could — all of our personal gear, blankets, towels, we gave it all."

A few years earlier and nearly 8,000 miles away, Sims was stationed in Wildflecken, Germany, when he was deployed for Operation Desert Storm in January 1991.

During his time in Kuwait, he said the only time he got on the ground during the war was to clear a lane through a minefield. The rest of the time was spent in a task force vehicle.

One night, he said, opposing forces were raining bombs down on them. They didn't stop moving and weren't hit. Finally, warplanes flew over carrying out an airstrike that "lit up everything on a road."

"We could see burning bodies and stuff like that," he said.

After a ceasefire was declared, Sims said they received radio information about a friendly unit coming through the middle of the desert. Coincidentally, that unit was either National Guard or Army Reservists from Chattanooga.

"How about they come through, and I see Chattanooga Choo Choo and Ruby Falls written on their vehicle!" he exclaimed. "I'm sitting there, and I was like, 'Chattanooga! Yeah!'"

Sims finally went back to Germany and then back to the States. He was deployed a few more times before he ended up at Fort Jackson, Mo., where he and Hailey finally crossed paths.

Sims was assigned to take a two-week course on Equal Opportunity, and Hailey was one of the advisers doing the training.

"I looked at her, and I said, 'She don't have a wedding band on,'" he said. "You know, she was looking good. She was the prettiest woman I had ever seen."

Sims made his move as soon as he graduated from the course. They had taken the Myers Briggs personality test during the training, so he asked her to explain what each letter meant, even though he already knew.

"I was like, 'Did he not pay attention?'" she said. "What kind of guy is this?"

After pointing out that they were opposites, he said "We'd probably be awesome together, wouldn't we?"

Hailey finally gave him her contact information on a piece of paper, and several emails and goofy cartoons later, the two went on their first date.

Before they retired, the two, both now 53, reached the rank of sergeant first class. They now live in Chattanooga and have three children and many awards for their service.

After nearly 20 years of marriage, Sims still has that piece of paper.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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