Shelby Shields and Kyle Heppler are engaged to be married, but their engagement is a bit different than most.
Rather than picking out dinnerware patterns or cake designs, Shields, 19, is stationed in Japan while Heppler, 20, is being deployed for the third time in his military career. The first two deployments took him to Iraq. This time he’s going to Afghanistan.
Most newly engaged couples don’t have to wonder if the groom will be alive to see the wedding.
“I think the scariest moment in my whole career was when I got orders for another deployment, just a week after asking Shelby to marry me,” Marine Lance Cpl. Heppler wrote in an e-mail from North Carolina, where he was sent from Japan to await his deployment.
“I remember the exact moment Kyle told me he was being deployed again. We were walking to the PX and he stopped me on the side of the road and said, ‘I have some really bad news,’” Marine Lance Cpl. Shields wrote in an e-mail from Okinawa.
“I felt my heart drop into my stomach and all I could do was hug him and hold on for dear life because my legs felt like Jell-o and I thought if I let go I might fall.”
The couple figured since Heppler had already been to Iraq twice in his three years with the Marines, they could make plans without worrying about another deployment.
“But that’s the Marine Corps,” Shields wrote, not with malice but with simple truthfulness.
Besides, based on the way that they met, the two are pretty used to drama.
They met in 2001, when Heppler was Shields’ friend’s boyfriend.
“I know, bad,” Shields wrote. “But she introduced me to him and we didn’t talk again until the messy breakup.”
Shields even played “middle man” on the phone when the actual breakup was going down. She kept Heppler’s number. He kept hers.
“Very soon after we were talking on the phone every night and the rest is history,” she said.
Their mutual love for service got them both into the military. Sort of.
“I joined the Marines in order to give back to my country what it’s given me, become a master at the Marine Corps martial arts program and to see the world,” Heppler said.
Shields signed up, in part, because Heppler was already enlisted. And she couldn’t stand the thought of four years of college after high school.
“If you would have asked me three or four years ago if I ever saw myself in the military I would probably laugh at you,” Shields said. Her original career goal, decided at age 3, was to be dolphin trainer. She later became interested in design.
Neither regrets their decision to become a Marine, regardless of how many times Heppler may get sent to Iraq.
“Every time I go home I’m reminded of what a good decision the Marine Corps was for me,” Shields said. “I love my friends dearly but a bunch have dropped out of college or are close to it, or still have no idea what they want to do with their life and wasted all that money.”
Both miss Tucson, their family, their dogs. Both also look forward to the care packages sent from home.
Shields especially appreciates the packages from Tucson Area Marine Moms, of which her mother is a part.
Heppler has gotten a laugh from a do-it-yourself Brazilian waxing kit and a half-empty tube of toothpaste a Maryland fifth grader stole from his parents.
“His mother apparently told him that we can’t shave or brush our teeth very often,” Heppler said.
Even the dangerous deserts of Iraq have humorous moments.
“The funniest thing I’ve ever seen was in Iraq during a sandstorm,” Heppler wrote. “A Marine I knew was in a Port-O-Potty while it was happening. Wind gusts of near 100 mph blew the stall over while he was in it. It took us 30 minutes to get him out because we were laughing so hard.”
Please note: this story was written last week and never published due to circumstance beyond our control.