Military romance is a favorite storyline for Hollywood — but the real story often looks far different. Approximately 3% to 4% of couples eschew the big wedding bash, according to The Wedding Report, opting for a courthouse wedding instead. Military unions are no exception.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, meet six military couples who went low-key for their wedding days — and are still going strong.
Gerard & Kendra Thomas, Army
This joint Army couple met the first day of Kendra’s new duty assignment 22 years ago. Kendra was so hungry at their first dinner that she asked to finish Gerard’s meatballs and mashed potatoes. The move must have worked, because Gerard next asked her to a movie.
“I told him that I like to read the book first,” Kendra said. “I went to my room soon after only to find the book on my bed.”
Four months after meeting, the couple married at a Hawaii courthouse on their lunch break with their friend Chico as the witness. They simply wanted to be together.
“We were really cool and organic together,” Gerard said. “We liked going to the beach and just being around one another.”
Decades later, Kendra wouldn’t change a thing.
“We were so young and confident about our love,” she said. “I was uncertain about so many things but had no doubt or fear about this commitment.”
Johnathan & Terra Gomez, Army
With his boot camp departure date looming, Johnathan and Terra wanted to get married in a hurry so she could easily join him after graduation. Their son Christopher, several relatives and two best friends watched as the couple married at their local courthouse.
“Seeing her standing there solidified that we were going to be together forever,” Johnathan said.
With the passage of time, Terra now recommends really examining your wedding priorities before taking the courthouse route. There is a small twinge of regret over not having the big wedding she dreamed of as a little girl, alongside the fact that her mother-in-law never got to have a mother-son dance.
Even so, “I do think that it was better the way we did it,” she said. “It was so stress-free and no fuss.”
The couple, in love since their teens, now has three children and is stationed at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. They have discussed having a “redo I do” ceremony at some point when their children are older.
“We think it would be really special to share that with them,” Terra said.
Brian Oden & Sheri Gravette, Marine Corps
With Brian in flight school in Florida and Sherri furthering her career in Virginia, finding a time to have a big wedding ceremony was proving difficult. It would have been at least a year-long engagement — not what the couple wanted. So they headed to a Florida courthouse in 2016, “woefully underdressed,” Sheri remembered.
A fellow Marine served as the witness, alongside his wife. Sheri met them for the first time at the courthouse.
“Kyle and Rebecca were dressed so nicely, while Brian and I looked like we were dressed for a movie date,” she said. “Pictures from our courthouse ceremony remain intentionally tucked away in frames in our home.”
Just a few months after the courthouse, Brian and Sheri held a vow renewal ceremony where they dressed up, hired a photographer and wrote their own vows. Five years later, they saved up for an anniversary party — but instead decided to pay off student loans and purchase necessities for their first child.
“We have no regrets about that decision,” Sheri said.
Not about any of it.
“Had we done what others wanted for us, we’d have had a big ceremony and likely spent way more than we wanted to,” Sheri said. “Don’t let other’s opinions dictate what you do. As long as it’s special for you and your partner, that’s what matters most.”
Emily & Jerod Konowal, Navy
A 90-day visa kickstarted the Konowals’ marriage. Emily, a member of the Australian Air Force, had met Jerod, a U.S. sailor, when he was in Australia on an exchange with the Navy. She didn’t like him — until she got to know him better at an Air Force ball.
“We both had big plans for the future,” Emily said. “We were interested in traveling, music and having a family.”
After moving to the States, the couple had 90 days to get hitched. Though they initially planned for a traditional wedding, the logistics of flying everyone from Australia simply were not feasible. So to the courthouse in Santa Ana, California, they went, alongside Jerod’s parents. His wedding ring hadn’t arrived, so they used a mood ring. Their honeymoon was spent driving across the country to their next assignment.
Since that day in 2010, they have PCSed six times and now have two daughters. The girls dream of planning a wedding for their parents someday — mainly for the fancy dresses. Even so, their mother’s only regret is that they didn’t get photos taken at their courthouse ceremony or soon afterward.
“Your wedding day is just about the two of you and your commitment to each other,” Emily said. “Nobody else matters at that moment.”
Kiara Smith-Paul & Chris Paul, Army
After just a few dates, soldier Chris Paul couldn’t stop thinking about Kiara. The two had connected on a dating app, then met in person the night before Kiara’s 21st birthday at an Applebee’s. Their height difference initially bothered Kiara, but it wasn’t long before she was hooked.
“I enjoyed his laid-back, easygoing personality and adventurous spirit,” she said.
Neither Chris nor Kiara viewed themselves as traditional, and a typical wedding struck them as unimportant. So about a year after meeting, they drove to a courthouse in Augusta, Georgia. The officiant was out, but after a quick call, she left her shopping downtown and married them.
“Having a fancy ceremony is something that most little girls dream of, but my thought process was: why would we spend all that money to put on a show for everyone else?” Kiara said. “This is supposed to be about us, but we would be spending money to cater to everyone else. That just didn’t make sense to either of us.”
The couple might have a family-only vow renewal ceremony for their 10th anniversary. But that decision is not as important, they said, as the time they have invested into their relationship.
“All the time that we spent together before Chris went off to basic training, all the letters back and forth, and all the time in between graduations, proved to us that we were meant for each other,” Kiara said.
Jacqueline & Nathan Gapp, Space Force
The Gapps have a story not many others can claim: they got married at a mass wedding ceremony at the Route 66 Summerfest in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
One of the best parts of their relationship had always been their ability to laugh and have fun together — so why not keep having fun right into a unique way to get married?
“We loved the spontaneity of our legal ceremony,” Jacqueline said. “Also, the day ended with a spectacular New Mexico sunset.”
Their witnesses were a couple from Texas, and the Gapps did the same for them. They took the mass ceremony route to obtain “legal legitimacy, stability and security,” Jacqueline said, as well as ease her entry into nursing school with in-state tuition rates.
One year later, the couple held another ceremony with family and friends in attendance.
“We got creative with that party and made it really special down to the details,” she said.
Ditching the traditional entry into marriage is a “huge decision,” Jacqueline said, but it doesn’t have to come with excessive pressure.
“Let it be as special or as casual as the couple desires,” she said. “Ultimately, you both decide what that day will look like.”Read comments