Standing in the doorway of “The Great Escape” dance hall and bar in Fairbanks, the soldier no longer cared that he had just played a soccer game for the Fort Wainwright ARMY team in the summer heat, or that he had foregone showering before being pressured to accompany his buddy out for the evening. He simply turned his head towards his friend while keeping his eyes on her and said, “I think I love her.” His buddy, seeing the look in his eyes, said goodbye and left Soldier to his interest.
I had been dancing with another guy and was sitting at a table in conversation when Soldier approached and asked me to dance.
I declined, stating that I was tired and already talking to a nice enough fella. He then politely asked again, so I agreed. By the time Prince had finished singing the song “Purple Rain” a few minutes later, we were interested in getting to know one another better. What happened next set the tone for the following 25 years. Soldier picked up a chair and put it directly in front of the guy I had been dancing with before, and sat down with his back facing him. Intrigued to see what would happen, I sat in silence watching Guy A solemnly surrender to Guy B as he slowly arose and walked away. My guess is Guy A did not feel like challenging Guy B, or he wasn’t all that interested with me to begin with. Either way, Soldier was in the hot seat now; and as far as I was concerned, he looked like he knew how to handle it.
Now 25 years later, Soldier (moniker for my husband’s name) and I have been married for 22 years and have 2 incredible children. We have lived in 5 states, traveled to several states and countries, and built 2 houses. We have owned a federal construction company-building for the military and other federal agencies, and I have taught for 12 years in 4 different school districts in 3 states. We have also harvested 7 Yukon moose and dozens of Kobuk caribou within our small family, and have raised our children with God-ward and Indigenous values. I think it is fair to say that the bet I took on Guy B turned out to be a successful one full of adventure, excitement, laughter, and most of all – love.
As I recall how my husband and I met, I am reminded of the fact that at that time, he was first, and foremost, a soldier.
He essentially belonged to the ARMY which greatly impacted all of his decisions. Whether it was going hunting or camping on the weekend or planning an event during the week, we lived by his schedule and duties – something that soon convinced me that I did not want to be an ARMY wife. Knowing how Soldier approached things, it was my turn to be clear about my desires and expectations. As much as I admire the military and those who serve (my father is a Vietnam Veteran and both of my grandfathers served in WWII), I knew that I did not want the ARMY deciding where we would live or what we were able to do, so I informed him that I would not marry a soldier. It was a big risk to take knowing that we were young and we both had options. However, in true soldier fashion, he faced it head-on and, without hesitation, agreed to exit the military before we wed. That was 22 years ago and not once has he expressed any regret about leaving the military to accommodate my life plans. If ever I bring it up, he simply states, “I love you and making you happy is my life’s journey.”
While this may read like a love story, it is just as much about how a soldier faces situations. I have seen Soldier labor in the hot sun building houses for days on end, build bridges and dams across the south and midwestern states, work tirelessly alongside his father-in-law, lead a federal construction company, build his mother a house, help birth our children, hold our son as he laid in an epileptic coma for 3 days, comfort his dad as he fought cancer, support me while I got my doctorate, and love us with a loyal and unconditional devotion. All of this he did with the heart of a soldier, steadfast in his resolve to finish the job with integrity and great care.
So, while Soldier may not be an active member of the military any longer, he is forever influenced by the values and ethics that he learned in the service.
He approaches each new day with gusto and does not shrink back in fear when life’s inevitable obstacles appear. In those moments, we simply hold hands, give each other that look of Alaska-Chick-meets-Veteran- fierceness, and we are off and running towards the execution of a new life plan.
I do not regret taking a chance on Soldier Murray and, as fate has it, neither does he regret strategically being in the right place at the right time some 25 years ago. Sometimes epic journeys require bold moves. As we continue to travel and enjoy sunsets around the world, I hope to have plenty of chairs around – just in case.