Valentine's Day, the Army way: For these Soldiers, love is the greatest weapon
WASHINGTON -- For many couples, Valentine's Day is more than just a lighthearted holiday and a chance to exchange chocolates and flowers -- it's an opportunity to celebrate the joy and sacrifice that are inherent in enduring love.
Military couples understand this perhaps more than most, given that they have to navigate the challenges that training, assignments, and deployments have on relationships. Here, Army.mil highlights three stories from the past year that represent the steadfast bond between Army Soldiers and their loved ones.
COMMISSIONED AND ENGAGED, ALL IN ONE AFTERNOON
It's easy to underestimate the enormous amount of work and dedication it takes to complete the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at a top-tier university. Cadets have to complete all required Army training to become officers while at the same time meeting the demands of their academic majors. Finishing with a rank and a degree is a huge accomplishment.
Clemson University ROTC cadet Allen Robertson decided he could do one better: He would become a U.S. Army officer and an engaged man on the same day -- in fact, within the same hour, May 10, 2017.
As the end of his last semester of college was approaching, Robertson, an accounting major from Mooresville, North Carolina, reveled in the fact he would be leaving Clemson with second lieutenant bars on his shoulders. But if he was going to be the best Soldier he could be, he needed to bring something else with him to his first duty station -- or rather, someone else: Chelsea Campbell, a fellow Clemson student and the love of his life.
Mutual friends introduced the two in September 2016, and within a few short months Robertson knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
"It didn't take too long," he laughed.
Robertson orchestrated a plan to lure Campbell to her favorite spot at Clemson -- a park in the middle of campus covered by a lush green canopy of trees -- after the ceremony. He enlisted the help from 15 fellow commissioned officers, and used the ruse that a photographer wanted to get a group photo of them all out of the bright sun, in the shade of the trees.
After the commission ceremony, all 15 new Army second lieutenants took the short walk over to the park and arranged themselves in a semi-circle. They took a few group photos, just to complete the ploy, and then Robertson asked Campbell to join him in front of the group. Fortunately, she complied, and he got down onto one knee and popped the question.
Her answer, after a moment of gathering herself, was an enthusiastic yes.
Scott Campbell, Chelsea's father, could not hold back his tears as he watched his daughter and her boyfriend take the next huge step in their life together.
"I'm proud in every way, shape and form," he said. "He's a great guy. They'll be going on to Fort Campbell where Chelsea will get her masters and he'll be protecting our country. They've got my blessing."
SOLDIERS MARRY -- WHILE DEPLOYED ON HURRICANE HARVEY RELIEF EFFORTS
What resources does a couple need for a successful wedding? For one Army National Guard couple, their recent wedding included a hurricane, a member of the Musicians' Hall of Fame, and a transport vehicle that doubled as their "getaway" car.
Cpl. Donald Hamilton, a team leader with A Company, 1st Battalion, 79th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, met his now-wife Spc. Rainey Jackson a few months prior to both of them going on a deployment to Ukraine. Jackson, who serves with the 700th Brigade Support Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, predicated their relationship on Chicago winning the Major League Baseball championship. When the Cubs won the World Series, Hamilton took it as a sign to pursue her.
"The rest," said the corporal, "is history. We're just made for each other."
Even the disruption of Hurricane Harvey, tearing up the Texas coastline, couldn't stop their plans to get married.
"We were planning our wedding for November, but then this all happened," he said, referring to the call-up to Texas and subsequent recovery missions. "What took us months and months to plan, they (unit leadership) put together in three days."
During those three days, the United Service Organization, an association dedicated to improving service member morale, lined up to provide food and drinks. Leadership arranged for photographers, and a local pastor -- Mike Deasy, an inductee of the Musicians' Hall of Fame in Nashville -- provided the music.
Deasy provided the newlywed couple with music both before and after the wedding. "It means a lot to play for them and the Soldiers out here," he said. "We owe them a lot."
Ten minutes before exchanging his vows, the groom tried to explain how much having his wedding while on orders during recovery efforts meant to him.
"After seeing so many people, who have lost so much, this ceremony is a bright spot in my day. But I have probably never been so nervous in all of my life."
After exchanging vows with Spc. Jackson, Hamilton changed her name tape to his, and kissed his new wife.
If he was nervous then, it didn't show.
RISING THROUGH THE RANKS, TOGETHER
They both wear the name tape "Evans." They both wear the rank of Staff Sergeant. They both wear Senior Jump Wings and a Combat Action Badge on their chests. They have the same job as an 88M, or a Motor Transport Operator. They have also both deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division together -- twice.
Staff Sergeants Zachary and Michelle Evans have spent almost their entire military careers together. They met while in-processing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in December 2010, after both completing Airborne School, ending up in the same platoon. They were placed in the same company and platoon after completing their in-processing. Michelle jokes about Zach having to ask her out on a date three different time before she finally said yes. They have been practically inseparable since.
Both Evans' came into the Army as privates and have risen through the enlisted ranks together. While Zach beat Michelle to Private First Class, Michelle has beat him to every rank since; however, he has never been far behind her. This competitive spirit has kept them both striving to get to the next level and to be better than they were before.
They deployed together in 2012 with the 82nd Airborne Division in support of Operation Enduring Freedom XII, both earning a Combat Action Badge. Soon after returning from deployment, the couple got married. In 2014, they were rotated back overseas for their second deployment, this time in Afghanistan.
Following their deployments, they served with the 173rd Airborne in Italy, earning their Jumpmaster certifications. Now, they are continuing their Army careers together as instructors for Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood -- as well as growing their Army Family. They welcomed their first child in September 2017.
Zach and Michelle credit their support for each other as the reason they have reached so many milestones in their careers. Through mentorship, friendly competition, and, most importantly, encouragement from one another, they have been able to rise up through the Army together.
(Editor's Note: This article is a special Valentine's Day compilation of three different articles, whose links are below: "ROTC cadet becomes second lieutenant, engaged in one great afternoon" by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar; "Oklahoma Army National Guard Soldiers marry while activated for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts" by Sgt. Scott Wolfe; and "Rising through the ranks, together" by Spc. Charlton Pope.)