Cupid is getting a little extra help these days from the U.S. Army and the winds of war.
Last Friday at the Charlotte County Justice Center in Punta Gorda, Spc ./4 Matt MacDonald, a 22-year-old Port Charlotte member of the 3rd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery headquartered in Sarasota, got married to Olivia Schmidt, a 19-year-old art student at Edison Community College.
It wasn’t an elaborate wedding. In fact, the young couple was married in a civil ceremony before a notary in the marriage license office in the courthouse. It took them less than five minutes to tie the knot. They’re planning a more elaborate ceremony sometime later.
“We’re having a number of guardsmen getting married before shipping out, ” Capt. Don Goodwin, chaplain of the unit, said earlier this week, “particularly in those units going overseas.”
It was the Army that got the young couple together more than a year ago. Now it’s the Army that’s pulling them apart.
A few National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve units around the country are being called up because of the potential war with Iraq. MacDonald ‘s unit is one of those activated. The young soldier, who graduated from Charlotte High School in 1999, will be deployed to Fort Stewart, Ga., for military police and Air Force security training before being stationed as a perimeter guard protecting one of the seven Air Force bases in Florida.
The battalion could be stationed as close as MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa or as far away as Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. The unit is to remain activated for a year, however, that could change at a moment’s notice. If they’re needed overseas, the 265th ADA Battalion could be fighting in the desert in a matter of a few weeks.
The two seemed destined to be a military couple.
“I first met Olivia when I was on active duty in Operation Safe Harbor, right after 9/11,” MacDonald said Wednesday. “In Safe Harbor, our unit was activated to guard the port of Tampa for six months. She was going to college at the University of South Florida in Tampa.”
After spending three months in Tampa, he rendezvoused with his wife-to-be in Charlotte County. They were lovestruck.
“Olivia and I have been going together for eight or nine months. We’d been talking about getting married in the next year or two. When we got word the deployment was coming, we decided to get married right away,” MacDonald said. “I wanted her covered by Army insurance and I wanted her in the Army’s family support system. Pretty much anything she might have a problem with while I’m gone, there will be people here to help her with it.
“Almost a month ago we got word we were going to be called up. At the time, I was working in sales at Action Mower in Punta Gorda,” he said. “I’d worked for them for several years. Mike Bolender, my boss, was very supportive of the idea.”
“It’s a needful thing what Matt ‘s doing,” Bolender said. “It’s hard to do without him, but at least he’s leaving in a slower time of year.”
MacDonald has worked at Action Mower since he was in high school.
He joined the Guard five years ago when he was 17 years old and still in high school. His military commitment is six years in the regular guard and two years in the active reserve after he completes his five-year hitch in the local unit.
When MacDonald returns from his latest deployment he plans to enroll in the Florida Police Academy to train for a career in law enforcement. He wants to become a sheriff’s deputy in the next couple of years.
Right now the young couple’s lives revolve around deployment. He went on active duty Saturday and has spent the last few days at the unit’s headquarters at the National Guard Armory on Ringling Boulevard in Sarasota getting ready.
On Sunday, they ship out for Fort Stewart.
The soldier’s willowy, brunette wife seemed almost as sold on the U.S. Army as her husband of six days.
“I’m excited. I always liked the military. Many of my family were in the service. My uncle is a general,” Olivia said as she smiled while clinging to the fatigues-clad arm of her soldier.
“I didn’t sign up for the Guard to say ‘No,'” MacDonald said as members of his battalion were making preparations all around him to leave town in a couple of days. “I signed up to do whatever they called on me to do.”
You might say they both said “yes” in more ways than one.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Jan. 30, 2003 and is republished with permission.
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