By Danielle DeSimone
Your wedding day: it’s a special occasion that many eagerly anticipate for weeks, months or even years. It’s a day that requires months of planning, cake-testing and rehearsals, as brides and grooms prepare and count down to the big day.
But for one service member, the COVID-19 pandemic and an extended deployment meant that she had to wait even longer for her wedding day.
A Wedding Day Disrupted by the Coronavirus
COVID-19 has disrupted lives around the world in many ways. For our military deployed overseas, the coronavirus pandemic has been especially challenging, as the Department of Defense (DoD)’s freeze on troop movements has required many deployments to be extended.
Megan, a member of the U.S. Air Force, and her fiancé Chris, who is also a U.S. service member, have spent the months leading up to their wedding separated by thousands of miles and several time zones. While Megan was deployed to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Chris was given a duty station in Japan.
The stress from this alone would have been enough to make any pending nuptials a challenge, but once the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the globe, both Megan and Chris’ deployments were extended well past their planned wedding day.
In fact, by the time Megan will finally return home, she will have been deployed for a full year.
Although they couldn’t celebrate their wedding day as planned, it was important to Megan and Chris that they still technically get married on their chosen date. So, they made the difficult decision to be married by proxy a few weeks ago, even while they were physically separately by an entire continent.
A Makeshift Wedding Celebration on Deployment
Throughout her deployment to Abu Dhabi, Megan has become a regular patron of the USO center on base and is well-known among staff as a cheerful and eager participant in center programs, particularly the Sunday Corn Hole event. When the USO team found out about Megan’s ruined wedding plans, they knew her official wedding date would be a difficult day for her to be so far from her fiancé and loved ones.
So, the team decided to do something special for Megan and her threw a surprise wedding celebration.
The USO regularly surprises deployed service members with birthday celebrations as part of Operation Birthday Cake, in which a loved one back home can request a cake to be sent to their service member via the USO. In this instance, the USO Abu Dhabi team decided to adapt the program to create their very own “Operation Wedding Cake” to help Megan feel special on her wedding day.
The USO team set up a table at an outside pavilion on base, decorated it with a white tablecloth, glittery balloons and a “wedding cake” that they frosted with whipped cream because, due to mail delays as a result of COVID-19, the USO team still hasn’t received their shipments of frosting that they usually have on-hand for food programs and birthday cakes.
Once everything was set, the team brought Megan to the table, where she was completely surprised. She even called her now-husband, Chris, as she and her fellow service members enjoyed the impromptu wedding celebration.
“Her husband was very excited about it as well, laughing and joking with Megan and staying on the phone while Megan and her friends ate the cake,” said Kimberley Culverhouse-Steadman, the programs and outreach coordinator of USO Abu Dhabi.
“[Megan] also came to speak to us the next day to thank us again for surprising her, and told us how she had experienced a roller coaster of emotions that day, so it was really special to be able to celebrate with her husband and the friends she has made out here.”
It wasn’t the wedding day Megan and Chris had hoped for, but in the U.S. military, service members are always ready to pivot to the next unexpected challenge. At the USO, we are always ready to pivot alongside them and ensure that our nation’s service members feel supported not just on big days, but every day.
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