They say all is fair in love and war. But what if you are in love and at war at the same time?
He’s a staff sergeant who works as an operator of unmanned aerial vehicles. She, a sergeant, is a system support specialist. They’re both in the Army and after marrying in May 2010, were stationed in Afghanistan at the same time, she in Kandahar and he in Bagram. For nine months, they were a three-hour plane flight apart and got to see each other in person for just five days.
On Veterans Day, they’ll reunite at Brecknock Hall in Greenport for an important wedding celebration: their own.
This is the love story of John and Cathrine Schmanski.
Cathrine (then Maloy), of Killingly, Conn., and Jonathan, of Riverhead, enlisted in the Army on the same date, Jan. 28 — only he joined in 2007 and she in 2008.
It was spring 2008 when the two met in the parking lot of an Army barracks in Germany. But it was far from love at first sight.
“We bumped heads,” Ms. Schmanski said in an interview at Brecknock Hall earlier this month. “We didn’t like each other.”
“I had an attitude,” she said, smiling and nudging Mr. Schmanski, who was sitting next to her. But they eventually became friends and “realized there was something more,” Mr. Schmanski said.
About two years later, he proposed at a red light during a horse and carriage ride in San Antonio, Texas, where they were both on leave. When a completely surprised Ms. Schmanski said yes, a crowd of people standing nearby erupted in cheers. Their mothers could both be spotted in the distance, toting cameras. (Mr. Schmanski had tipped them off.)
But immediately afterwards, she was on a plane to Germany, where she was stationed without him. Being away from each other was difficult, she said.
“When I got back to Germany, I felt so helpless,” she said. “What would the next step be? What was the Army going to let us do?”
A month later, the couple wed at a Justice of the Peace court in Tucson, Ariz., where Mr. Schmanski was training. Both had dreamed of a large wedding with lots of family, but only a handful of close friends was there. A few friends went to Walmart to pick up cheap wine and picture frames.
They got hitched so fast, Mr. Schmanski said, so they could be stationed in the same place and live together, a freedom afforded only to married couples in the military.
Getting married “gave us some sort of stability,” Mr. Schmanski explained.
On Nov. 11, at historic Brecknock Hall at Peconic Landing, the pair will have the traditional wedding they’ve always wanted, with everything donated, from the food and flowers to the makeup and photography.
Christopher Michael Catering in Laurel is one of 20 local businesses providing a service for the wedding.
“It’s a way to say thank you to the people who protect us,” said Matt Kar, a chef at Christopher Michael. “It’s the least I can do.”
Allison Pressler of Allison Pressler Professional Skin Care in Aquebogue said her father and father-in-law are both veterans, and she decided to donate makeup services to give back to a couple who has made sacrifices to serve the country.
“It’s what you do for your community,” she said. “They’re doing a lot more than what I’m offering.”
Mr. and Ms. Schmanski were stationed in Afghanistan for one year each, and Mr. Schmanski also served a 10-month deployment in Iraq.
Earlier this month, Mr. Schmanski said he and his wife had spent only 90 of the past 750 days together. They’ve endured separation by handwriting letters, sending emails and video chatting.
“We’ve spent a lot of money on phone bills,” he said with a laugh.
While both were in Afghanistan, they’d talk on the phone each night. She’d fall asleep with her phone tucked under her ear with him on the other line, and he’d call her in the morning to wake her up.
Ms. Schmanski said the hardest part for her was the anticipation of seeing him next.
And the hardest part for him?
“This is going to sound sappy,” he said. “You get into a rhythm. When she would go, it would take me a long, long time to adjust. You feel like you’re missing out on a lot, the good and the bad.”
He looked at Ms. Schmanski, who had a beaming smile.
“Do I get brownie points for that?” he asked her.
“Brownie points!” she said, giving him a high five.
The Schmanskis are now stationed together in Hinesville, Ga., where they can be sure they’ll live for the next two years. They plan to buy a home there and adopt an Irish Shorty Jack Russell puppy.
Editor’s Note: Over the next eight weeks, Times/Review Newsgroup will publish a series of stories about getting married on the North Fork. We aim to inform by covering subjects like wedding etiquette and where your guests should stay. We also hope to entertain with stories on after-parties and rehearsal dinners. And, in partnership with Peconic Landing, we’ll tell the story of the Schmanski wedding on Veterans Day at Brecknock Hall. Throughout the series, you, our readers, will have the opportunity to vote on the various donated elements to be incorporated in that wedding — from the menu to the song selection for the couple’s first dance.