At Navy Bridal Show, Deployments Can Mean Planning Quick Weddings

Feb 12, 2018

One issue military families deal with more frequently than civilians is prolonged separations.

Lisa Wolfe sat at a long table welcoming brides-to-be to Mayport’s Ocean Breeze Conference Center last weekend  

She asked women as they came in, “Are you the bride?”

Wolfe was working at the first ever Tri-Base Bridal Expo put on by the Navy’s office of Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

One organizer Sarah Barthelemy said, “We’ve teamed up with Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Sub Base Kings Bay to coordinate this event as a way to reach out to different brides-to-be in the area.”

Practically anything for the big day was displayed in the brightly decorated center — everything from cakes, caterers’ samples and wedding gowns to flowers, favors and photographs.

Barthelemy said she knows how important a one-stop wedding shop like this could be to a future military wife.

“The issue I think a lot of military brides or brides-to-be face — and this is something I ran into myself personally — is everything’s kind of a fast turnaround,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, do you want to get married?Because I leave in three months.’”

Sailors, aviators and submariners can be gone for months at a time, so, unlike their civilian counterparts, Navy couples can find themselves making a big decision — like making a lifetime commitment— in a very big hurry.

That’s how it happened for 30-year-old Tiffany Rodriguez, who was at the bridal expo as a vendor for Pure Romance, a company that arranges themed parties for women.

“We met at a Starbucks, and I saw him in his uniform and that was it. I was sold,” she said. “It was very quick. Within eight months of knowing each other we were married and then he left me.”

A week after the wedding, Rodriguez said, her new husband shipped out for a 15-month deployment in Bahrain.

“He actually came home for five days in that 15 months, and we got pregnant with our daughter. And then he didn’t come home until I was seven months pregnant. So when he came home, I had this big belly, and he was like, ‘What happened?’” she laughed. 

That was the first of many changes Rodriguez said her husband encountered when he got home from his long deployment.

“It’s very hard when they come home because you are in charge and then they come home, and they think that it’s the same life, and it’s very different. So you have to kind of take it slow and merge your life back together,” she said. 

For Navy families who need help, the Fleet and Family Support Center on base offers resources that include making new friends and managing household finances to coping with a new baby and finding a job for a dependent.

Editor's Note: This story is part of WJCT’s Beyond the Core project, a listening tour designed to help us get to know the community and to help our audience get to know each other. Beyond the Core stories are based on what we hear at listening sessions. Please visit our Beyond the Core page for more information and to find out whether we’ll be in your neighborhood soon. 

Contact reporter Cyd Hoskinson at choskinson@wjct.org