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Technology unites Airmen in matrimony

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 27, 2005) -- Nearly 7,000 miles of desert and ocean could not keep two Airmen from tying the knot.

Maj. Heather Villasenor, who is at a forward-deployed location in Southwest Asia, married Lt. Col. Michael Bryant on April 26. The wedding was held in Southwest Asia -- and Virginia.

Maj. Heather Villasenor exchanges wedding vows with Lt. Col. Michael Bryant over the phone at a forward-deployed location April 26. Colonel Bryant called from his lawyers office in McLean, Va. Colonel Bryant is the Joint Staff target operations chief in Washington and Major Villasenor is a senior intelligence duty officer. U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. John Fage.

Colonel Bryant, the Joint Staff target operations chief, showed up at his lawyer's office in McLean, Va., dressed in his Air Force blues and armed with a calling card to pay for the long-distance call.

"I'm standing in the hallway of the trailer I live in," said Major Villasenor from her deployed location. "There (are) 10 people here in my wedding party -- my commanding officer, my close personal friends since I've been here and people from back home in my old unit."

After the call was placed and Major Villasenor was on speakerphone, Virginia attorney Conrad Marshall conducted a quick wedding ceremony over the telephone. Shortly after, the two Air Force officers were married.

"When it first started, I was getting emotional," Colonel Bryant said. "But this is the right thing for both of us. She is going to be really happy about it, and so am I. It's a happy day for both of us."

Major Villasenor said she would have liked for her mother to be present at the speedy telephone wedding, but she knows her mom understands the needs of the military come first.

"Well, my mom is really happy, and she just wants me to be happy too," she said. "She knows it's tough in the military, but she wants what's best for me."

Major Villasenor, a senior intelligence duty officer, calls Texas her home. Her husband, Colonel Bryant, is a native of Middleboro, Mass. They met at a party here in early 2004.

The two travel in close circles, as they both work in the intelligence community. And it was not too long after they met that they started talking about getting married, Major Villasenor said.

"We officially got engaged in October 2004, but we were talking about it well before then," she said. "We were probably talking about it just three months after we met."

Plans for a wedding had to be put on hold when Major Villasenor deployed. But in February, her fiancée learned he had been selected for promotion to colonel. Along with that promotion he received a new assignment, this time in Germany. He wanted to make sure they married in time to ensure the two could both get assignments to Stuttgart, Germany together under the joint spouse rules.

"They are sending me to European Command,” Colonel Bryant said. "I will move this summer, and in order for her to move with me under the joint spouse rules, we have to be married. So we didn't want to wait until she got back."

Most people have not considered getting married over the phone. In fact, it is not even possible in most places. But Colonel Bryant said a phone conversation with a friend of his -- his wife's director of operations -- let him know that it was possible.

"He said you know you can (get married) over the phone," Colonel Bryant said. "I started looking around and called the county courthouse, and they give me a list of names of people (who) do weddings."

Colonel Bryant contacted Mr. Marshall for more information about how two people might get married under Virginia law, but not be physically together for the ceremony.

"It turns out that he is the (person who) many years ago got this process approved," Colonel Bryant said.

In the 1970s, Mr. Marshall was one of four lawyers in the county who performed weddings. He said he was privy to many requests for weddings between people who could not be in the same place at the same time. That is what prompted him to investigate the matter further.

The Virginia attorney general's opinion was that under the Virginia law at the time, it was permissible for two people to get married over the telephone, Mr. Marshall said.

"They gave us a favorable opinion, saying it was perfectly legal, just as long as we could identify who was on the other end," he said. "That's why we had the commanding officer there."

Armed with the knowledge, Colonel Bryant needed only to get the necessary paperwork signed and filed in the county courthouse.

"The main thing we were anxious about was getting the forms back and forth from her to here," Colonel Bryant said. He said it was a little nerve racking trying to get legal documents to Southwest Asia and back to get them signed and notarized.

Once all the documents were signed, the wedding proceeded. Mr. Marshall said he has performed more than 40 such weddings over the past 30 years, some in Korea, Japan and the Middle East.

"I even did a wedding in Baghdad over the phone about a month ago," he said.

Major Villasenor will return to the United States in mid-May. The couple has a traditional wedding ceremony planned for July.