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There are nearly as many how the military changed my wedding plans stories as there are military couples, but this year has added a layer of unpredictability that even Uncle Sam would find maddening. All over the country, couples that had planned to get married this spring and summer have had to postpone or change their plans, and military couples are no exception.
There were many times Army 2nd Lt. Meaghan M. Johnson and her new husband, 2nd Lt. James Johnson, didn’t think their wedding would even happen. Both Johnsons graduated from United States Military Academy at West Point this year and had planned for their wedding to take place in the Cadet Chapel at West Point the day after their graduation, with all their family members present to celebrate both milestones with them. Then COVID-19 happened.
New York’s heightened restrictions meant the date of their graduation was moved back a month, which meant moving their wedding date and adjusting all their plans. Then, fluctuating guidance on what would be allowed and wouldn’t be allowed meant that their plans just kept changing. At one point they were told that they couldn’t get married in the Cadet Chapel, then they were told that they wouldn’t be allowed to have guests, then it was announced that President Trump would be the commencement speaker for the graduation, adding a layer of security requirements to the already onerous COVID-19 requirements.
“We joked that we had probably 16 different plans for our wedding and they changed all the time,” Meaghan Johnson said. “We had around 25 people at the wedding, but we were only able to have 10, including us, inside the chapel. So, we had people standing outside and they all cheered when we kissed, so it was pretty funny.”
With no bridesmaids, no groomsmen, and an empty—but gorgeous—chapel, the Johnsons were finally able to say “I do” on June 14.
“We decided to just suck it up and take what we could get,” Johnson said.
If the 2020 wedding season had a theme, that would be it. It’s something that Erika DeMaggio, an Army spouse and the owner of Soirée Bridal Boutique in Colorado Springs, hears some version of every single day.
“In military parlance, I’d say, embrace the suck. There’s no changing the circumstances these brides find themselves in. I tell brides to find the upside, the silver lining.”
Demaggio said she suggests that a couple consider using the money they allocated for a big wedding for a down payment on a home or to pay for a dream honeymoon…eventually.
“Look at those crazy low flight prices for next year! Helloooo, overwater villa in Bali!” Demaggio said.
The honeymoon, however, is a silver lining the Johnsons can’t get too excited about. They had already planned and paid for a dream trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, where they would tour Angkor Wat, among other sites, during the weeks they both have off between graduating and reporting to their first duty station, Ft. Bragg, NC. The Department of Defense’s travel restrictions put their plans on hold.
“Not being able to go on a honeymoon is really frustrating,” Johnson said. “This was our one opportunity to have six weeks open when we could travel. We know it’s going to be really hard to ever get time like that again in our whole Army careers.”
Demaggio said many couples she talks to are choosing to shift their wedding dates by a few months to a whole year. Others are splitting the difference and having their ceremony on their scheduled day, and planning a reception for some time next year, when—hopefully— COVID restrictions won’t wreck the party. That’s an idea the Johnsons are considering, if their Army schedules will allow it.
Demaggio said some couples are planning drive-in ceremonies, as well as drive-by receptions and one bride she knows is planning on doing three mini receptions, where she and her husband will have a small main ceremony in Colorado with their local friends, and then travel to each of the states where their families live in and have satellite receptions there, complete with the dress and tux, instead of inviting everyone to one big event.
“While it’s not the full experience many of them imagined, I think it’s a neat hybrid that still feels exciting, fun, and lets them feel the love of their tribe,” Demaggio said.
For the Johnsons, even though the circumstances this year have been frustrating and repeatedly forced changes to their plans, they’re staying optimistic.
“We’re not sad about anything we missed out on,” Johnson said. “We’re going to do a big party at some point, maybe we’ll have another ceremony. We’re not sure what it will look like, or when it will be. But we really feel like it all worked out okay.”
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