By Sandi Moynihan
It sounds like a love story made for the movies.
He was a Marine. She was a collegiate student-athlete who dreamed of becoming a Navy helicopter pilot. Thanks to a mutual friend and a bit of encouragement, the two agreed to a blind date in 2010 that quickly led to a second date, and a third.
“[On our first date] he took me on a ride on his motorcycle … to this little boat pier where they kept the boats across the river from the airport and we watched the planes take off and it was really cute,’” said Navy Lt. Julie Orlandi, who played varisty softball and was in the George Washington University’s NROTC program at the time.
Making the Commitment
Eventually, then-Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Johnson and Orlandi started dating seriously. A few months later, Johnson deployed to the Middle East, where he was attached to an expeditionary unit with sporadic communication to the outside world.
“It was sad [to be away from Julie for so long] but I had my daily things to do,” Johnson said.
Although it was hard to go for long stretches of time without hearing from Johnson, Orlandi thinks that it was this first deployment, while the couple was still in their early 20s, that helped them both realize their commitment to the relationship.
“I think you learn a lot about your relationship during a deployment,” Orlandi said. “A lot of relationships can’t survive a 10-month deployment, or even less than that.”
In mid-2012, Johnson returned from the Middle East and the couple reunited in Washington, D.C. Then, in the spring of 2013, Orlandi graduated from college and was commissioned as a Naval officer with orders to attend flight school in Pensacola, Florida. To support Orlandi’s new career, and devote more time to his online undergraduate studies, Johnson left the Marine Corps as a corporal and returned to his native Georgia in 2013.
The couple continued to date long distance, and somewhere between Orlandi’s arduous training schedule and Johnson’s academics, the two were engaged in August 2014. They wed in Orlandi’s native Maryland in February 2015 surrounded by family and friends. Shortly after the wedding, when Orlandi graduated from flight school, the couple received orders for their first permanent duty station and moved to San Diego, California. That’s when the role reversal really began.
While Orlandi spent the next few years training to fly the MH-60R helicopter she still flies today, Johnson adjusted to life as a military spouse and spending more time at home with the couple’s three rowdy dogs.
Still, not content with lounging around the house, Johnson kept himself busy by finishing his undergraduate degree in 2016, landing a full-time job as a hydrologist tech for the United States Geological Survey and tackling home-improvement projects on the weekends. Then, in June 2017, Orlandi received orders to head to the Persian Gulf on her first deployment.
Now it was Johnson’s turn to stay at home, and he knew exactly what to do.
“I know what to expect,” Johnson said. “It’s not [as] hard for me [when Julie deploys].”
According to the couple, Johnson’s prior service made typical deployment stressors — like time zone differences or sparse communication — complete nonissues during their three months apart.
“He knew exactly what to expect … he knew exactly what I was getting into because he [lived] through it,” Orlandi said.
Similarly, Orlandi’s experience supporting Johnson during his prior deployments helped her empathize with any difficulties he was having at home.
“What I’ve kind of learned, having been on both sides of the relationship, is that while the service member works a lot … they’re the one that’s away in a foreign land. … You have to appreciate … what the person that stays back home is going through,” Orlandi said.
Now, fresh off of Orlandi’s second deployment to the Pacific region in the spring of 2018, the couple is looking ahead to thier inevitable, yet undetermined, next duty station and future life together as a military couple.
“We’ll do my thing [in the military] for a little while … and then I hope someday Josh can pursue his goals a little bit more than [he can right now as a military spouse],” Orlandi said.
Editor’s note: The author of this story is personal friends with Joshua Johnson and Navy Lt. Julie Orlandi.
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