'Flip or Flop: Fort Worth's Andy & Ashley Williams on How Falling in Love in Iraq Led to a TV Show (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Flip or Flop: Fort Worth isn't just a TV show for Andy and Ashley Williams -- it's a mission.
The couple met in a gym on deployment in Baghdad, Iraq (Andy was in the Marines, while Ashley was in the Army), and years later, are using their position on HGTV to shine a light on veteran reintegration.
"I approached her. I asked if she needed a personal trainer," Andy tells ET of how he made the first move. "She was really, extremely beautiful, and when I first looked at her, there was, like, rockets constantly going off, [but I] forgot that I was in Baghdad. I was like, 'Wow. Who is this beautiful woman?' So it was a bit of a pickup line, but obviously she did need some help."
"I needed a lot of help!" Ashley says with a laugh.
After six years of living in a "200-square-foot construction trailer in a combat zone," the two returned to Texas, where they started flipping houses "out of necessity."
"We both had goals that we had before we got married. We also had a standard of living that we wanted, and we understood when we got out of the military, that that wouldn't necessarily translate to the amount of money that we were going to make, because veterans are deeply discounted in their skill set when they get out and try to get civilian jobs," Ashley explains. "So entrepreneurship was a necessity for us to live the best life that we wanted."
"There was days where I pulled Ashley out at 3 o'clock in the morning, and we would sit in the bunker, and I was doing a radio check. And it's those days of learning that life and death was real, future was relevant," Andy says. "We constantly thought about our future, because everyday was a present, truly a present."
"We really were trying to get out of Iraq, but we knew that if we came back home just with the idea or concept, that we wouldn't probably succeed. So real estate, entrepreneurship was our way of creating a safe haven," he adds.
Now, the pair is using Flip or Flop: Fort Worth to showcase other veterans, which Ashley confessed was "paramount" to them agreeing to do the show.
"The landscaper [from the pilot], he had been in business for a couple of years already, but he hadn't really gotten a big break. I think he did about five of our episodes, and now the stuff that he can't do, he's giving to another veteran landscaping company," she shares. "It's like a chain reaction, and that's what we wanted. That is our goal, and we just succeeded in a little way."
"HGTV was just the perfect partnership to spotlight the mission, and then also highlight us so other veterans can see, 'Yeah, you know what? Entrepreneurs like us do exist,'" Andy says. "There is a huge problem in America with veteran reintegration, and as we raise young kids, is important that veterans win in America. That's all we're trying to do, is help other veterans win as we are winning, because it's important that we are on the winning side."
While the couple, who admit that it was "unnerving" to have cameras follow them around at first, haven't met the original Flip or Flop stars Tarek and Christina El Moussa, they have received tons of "support" from the other stars of the franchise. But that family environment isn't what Andy and Ashley are counting on to keep their marriage strong in the spotlight.
"Honestly, we've dealt with some of the worst situations," Ashley insists, referring to their years living in a combat zone. "I don't think coming back home and having people see us [on TV] is going to be any worse than dodging a rocket or diving into a bunker."
"Ash and I are very cognizant, especially with the kids, just to remain simple people. It's a great opportunity with HGTV, but we're very aware that it's really about the mission, and we keep that at the forefront of our focus. And then, we're having fun," Andy expresses. "Whether [the cameras] were here or not, we'd be doing what we're doing. We just continue to do what we love and serve, and we just have a spotlight. But we're remaining very humble and simple in the process."
The pair's kids, Ashton and Amina, also make appearances on Flip or Flop: Fort Worth, which Ashley says was important because they wanted to expose them to entrepreneurship.
"We know America is no longer what it was when we grew up, where you went to school, you got out, and you got a great job... We wanted to show them how entrepreneurship allows you to control your own future," Ashley explains. "I'm hoping they kind of follow our footsteps in that, but hey, they may want to be carpenters, they may want to be artists, they may want to be pilots. We just want to expose them. That's the important thing."
"We talk to our kids about the problem we're solving," Andy adds. "If we can teach our kids to grow up in this society and find a problem and solve it, I think we'll be successful parents."
Flip or Flop: Fort Worth airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV.