Wedding plans become a casualty of war


AT SOME OF Maryland's military installations, moving up marriage dates before deployment is becoming a mini-trend. Fort Meade saw a rash of speedy weddings last November, the week before a reserve unit deployed.

"We had 12 requests right around Thanksgiving week [for weddings performed by base chaplains]," says Don McClow, Fort Meade spokesman. Because the religious affiliations of some of the service members required extended premarital counseling before marriage, many opted to have civil ceremonies off base in order to meet the deployment deadline.

With two out of Fort Meade's three Army units deployed, the wedding rush is over -- for now. "That was a little pocket of time I remember distinctly [with many weddings], but I don't think we are experiencing anything now," says McClow, who notes just a few inquiries have been made about rushed nuptials in the past few weeks.

At the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Lt. Cmdr. William Clyde of the Office of Public Affairs says that while some personnel have married quickly before deployment, it has not become a mass movement. The same situation holds at Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to spokeswoman Karen Jolley.

It appears that many would rather wait the war. People who prefer a big celebration with relatives, friends or an extended honeymoon have decided to postpone.

Such is the evidence at the U.S. Naval Academy chapel, a favored marriage spot for Academy graduates, commonly booked one and a half years in advance. Carol Feldmann, a spokeswoman at the Naval Academy, says the chapel has had two wedding cancellations due to deployments in the Persian Gulf. The Naval Academy Officers' Club has had five cancellations for wedding receptions.

In Edgewood, Pam Rhoads, an environment chemist for the Department of Defense, is waiting to wed her fiance, Army Capt. Robert Serino, who is deployed in Saudi Arabia. Rhoads cannot plan for the winter or spring wedding the couple would have liked.

"We really didn't have a date chosen before he left, but we don't know when to have it now. Everything is on hold along with our cruise reservations," says Rhoads, who says Serino and she "decided to scratch a large wedding and have a nice honeymoon."

Rhoads says her fiance, a career officer who is a chemist, was deployed with just 36 hours notice last August. He was initially told he would return to Edgewood in February, but now faces possible reassignment to Saudi Arabia as a permanent duty station. After five months apart, the two are lonely for each other but write every day and telephone often.

"We have astronomical phone bills," says Rhoads, because her fiance enjoys greater access to a telephone than most service members. The fact that Serino works in Central Command offices in Riyadh, a relatively safe environment, is also a blessing for them.

To fill time, Rhoads gets together with the friends and family of other service members to share support for their loved ones.

"We all bake cookies, the Valentine's packages have been sent, we try to be supportive. I sent him winter clothes to come home in, because he was supposed to be back next month -- but now he may be coming home in May or June," says Rhoads.

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