Military couples hurrying to get hitched amidst war preparation

Sunday, March 16, 2003

LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- With his wedding five minutes away, Army Pvt. Sam Minton has a lot on his mind. The bride hasn't shown up yet. She's eight weeks pregnant. And he's shipping out in four hours.

"Don't worry, she'll be here," says Jake Van Winkle, Minton's best friend, as the two sit anxiously in the Chapel of the Lakes on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

With the threat of war in Iraq looming, many military couples are making a mad dash to the altar.

Some want to secure the insurance and benefits granted to spouses, while others simply want the emotional reassurance before their loved ones head off for a distant land.

Minton and Lindsay Daniels, 18, both Army privates, met at a party last year but split up when Daniels was sent to Fort Lee in Virginia for training. They reunited in November when they found themselves stationed in the same unit at Fort Lewis.

"She treats me like I want to be treated -- we love each other so much," said Minton, 20, who may be sent to the Middle East after he completes his deployment training.

Similar stories are playing out across the country.

"Every time we turn around we hear of another wedding that's taken place," said Denise Varner, spokeswoman for the California National Guard.

In Washington state, judges, chaplains and county auditors say they, too, have seen an increase in military weddings.

"If nothing else, the conflict in the Middle East has been good for the institution of marriage," said Ronald Culpepper, a judge in Pierce County.

In Pierce County, there has been a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in marriage license requests over the past month or so -- mostly from military couples, said Carol Fenton, a clerk with the county's auditor department.

Chic Jackson-King, chaplain at Chapel of the Lakes, said she recently presided over a midnight wedding of a couple who were set to deploy at 5 a.m.

"They were all hugging and kissing and crying and the bride said, 'What are we gonna do from now until 5?"' Jackson-King said. "And I said, 'Honey, you just got married, you're on your honeymoon -- I'm sure you'll find something!"'

Chapels on the state's military bases have also been busy.

"We're looking at one almost every weekend and it used to be once every two months," said Janelle Howe, who works in the chapel at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Back at Chapel of the Lakes, Minton's bride has finally arrived after fighting through a traffic jam.

Her mother, Debbie Daniels, helps her adjust her wedding gown while friends Shawna Lee and Amber Dipaolo, whose fiances are also stationed at Fort Lewis, try to calm the jittery bride's nerves.

"We're so proud of them that they're protecting our country right now," Debbie Daniels said with tears in her eyes. "We're gonna give them a honeymoon when they come back."

Planning a wedding in five days was no small feat. Minton found out on a Saturday that he was being deployed the following weekend.

On Sunday, he asked Daniels' mother for permission to marry her youngest daughter, and later took Daniels to the top of the Space Needle to propose. Then it was a race to get a marriage license, which in Washington state requires a three-day waiting period.

After training at Fort Irwin in California for six weeks, the now-married Minton will head to Fort Polk in Louisiana for more training. The future is uncertain, but Daniels said frequent phone calls and care packages will help keep them connected.

At the altar, Minton and Daniels stare into each other's eyes and clasp hands, as the bride's mother holds up a cell phone so her other daughter, Angiee, can listen to the ceremony from her Las Vegas home.

"Today as you join yourselves in marriage, there's a vast and unknown future stretching out before you," says Jackson-King. "But love will show you the way to happiness."

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