Our Love Story

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Our Love Story

By Lizann Lightfoot, the Seasoned Spouse

My husband and I met at a small community swimming pool. I was the lifeguard, and his family had just moved into the neighborhood. We were both 18 and had just graduated from high school. We connected instantly. Even though I was going away to college in a few months, we soon started dating and promised to make the long-distance thing work.

Ha! At the time, we thought long-distance was living a few hours apart, and us being able to visit each other at least once a month. That was before he joined the Marine Corps.

We had been dating for less than a year when he decided to enlist to pay for college. He went off to Boot Camp, followed by SOI (School of Infantry), then a duty station across the country and three back-to-back deployments to Iraq. My college years turned out to involve a lot more long-distance than either one of us had imagined! We wrote hundreds of letters, and spent countless hours on the phone, pledging our love across the miles and the years.

Now, 21 years later, I can say with confidence that we survived the distance and all its trials. But it certainly wasn’t easy. During his first few deployments, when I was “just a girlfriend” I had no connection to the military and no support system. His base was on the other side of the country, so even when he wasn’t deployed, I rarely visited. I didn’t know any other military girlfriends. And at the beginning of the Iraq War, no one knew what to expect from combat deployments. It was confusing new territory for both of us. We knew we loved each other, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for the numerous sacrifices military life required from a family.

When we finally married—after seven years of dating—we were ready to put his military career behind us. He didn’t plan to reenlist when he reached the end of his eight-year contract. Instead, he would get out and finish school on the GI Bill, while I supported us with my career that was showing great promise for advancement. So even though we had a military wedding, and a man in dress blues slapped me on the butt with a sword and declared, “Welcome to the Marine Corps, ma’am!” I wasn’t planning to be a career military wife. We were relieved that any babies we had would never know the difficulties of being a military kid.

Ha, we were wrong again! His initial contract would have ended in 2008, but the economy was in recession that year, and few jobs were hiring. We couldn’t afford to live in the D.C. area on my salary alone. We already had one baby, and I was struggling to work full-time with a long commute. We saw the stability of a military job, the steady income, the guaranteed housing, and the ability for me to stay home with our kids. Together, we decided that him staying in the military was the best option for our family.

So, he reenlisted. And then we moved to a new state. And immediately, he prepared to deploy again.

The cycle of deployments and PCS moves has continued throughout our marriage. Sometimes it is a blur of crazy stress. But there are always more bright spots and fond memories than dark moments. Together, we have gone through seven deployments and six PCS moves. We have five children, I’ve held four jobs, and we have spent three years living overseas. For the two of us, that’s one incredible love story! Our military love story has not been easy, but the chaotic whirlwind has made our family the strong and steady unit that we are today. Together, we know that we can face any challenge. Our love has already persisted through so many trials and time zones!

During those difficult years of dating and deployments, I could have used some extra support and encouragement. That’s why I’m so passionate about encouraging other military spouses. Whether you are young or old, you have experiences that may help inspire others. Every military love story is unique, but each one may help strengthen another couple.

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, “Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses.” We all need to hear encouraging, supportive words during the various challenges of military life. My book is a collection of letters written directly to military spouses to support them through the big and small moments of military life—from your first night apart until your service member is planning to leave the military! In the book, I share several of my own stories to inspire readers through the many difficulties that will test your relationship. The book will be published on September 21, 2021 by Elva Resa Publishing.

Our love story has been written slowly and passionately over the past two decades. We have had many difficult chapters, balanced with several sweet ones. But my favorite chapters may be the ones that are just ahead of us—after military retirement!

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