Chase Wood, 24, and Elizabeth Chapman, 19, were in a hubbub of activity at the Chapman home last Thursday in rural Princeton, not unlike many couples getting ready to be married.
The couple was readying for their wedding rehearsal that evening and also looking toward their wedding on Friday, June 29, at Freshwaters United Methodist Church in Spencer Brook Township.
But what sets the couple apart from many couples going into marriage is that they are facing uncertainty about their living together in the next few months. That is because both are in the military and he says he has orders for deployment to the Middle East, far from her duty station stateside.
Both are in the U.S. Air Force where he is a senior airman and she is an airman first class. She has been in the Air Force 1 1/2 years with an obligation for four more years. He has been in just over four years and plans to make the Air Force a 20-year career.
She is uncertain about re-enlisting, explaining that she just wants to get a four-year college degree and make sure she can get a job before leaving the military.
Wood, a native of Brighton, Mich., says he joined the Air Force because of a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks and free health care, and to get out on his own and travel. He is also looking forward to a community college Air Force degree in logistics, he said, to enhance his military job skills. He added that he likes being able to serve the country.
“As far as the real passion” for his military duties as a job master loading cargo onto planes, “it is not there,” he said. “I have the assurance of a steady income,” he repeated.
Asked if he would be interested in going for a different occupation in the Air Force, Wood said that he doesn’t want to start over in a new training track.
But would there be a dream job in the Air Force for him if he went into new training? He paused and then said that being an aerial gunner “would be cool.”
Chapman, speaking about her reasons for joining the Air Force, said, “I always wanted to be a pilot.” She is doing the same kind of cargo-loading job as Wood and said that just getting into the Air Force is a “foot in the door” to work toward becoming a pilot. Another lure to join, she said, was the free on-line college through the Air Force to get an aviation degree. Also, “to get out on my own” was another motivator to join, she said.
But a contract with the military is a two way deal. Along with the job security comes the obligation of going where ordered.
Chapman’s mother Mary brought out that point one day at her Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce office where she works as the chamber coordinator. Being separated can be difficult for a couple, Mary said.
The first taste of separation for Elizabeth Chapman and Chase Wood after they had shown a commitment to each other was about eight months or so ago. The military transferred Wood at that time from McGuire AFB in New Jersey to Charleston AFB in South Carolina. She remained back at McGuire, at least until December. Then, she was deployed to Qatar in the Middle East until her return to McGuire on June 6.
At least recently, the two have been spending time together for such matters as getting married.
Wood traveled to McGuire on June 22 to pick her up and then they went to Michigan where she met his family for the first time. After a short visit they went to rural Princeton on June 24.
As this story was written hours before their wedding, the two were planning a honeymoon at his father’s cottage at Silver Lake, Mich. The couple planned to take a ferry from Manitowac, Wis., and cross Lake Michigan to get there. After their stay at the cottage until July 5, their plan is to return to Brighton, Mich. They are scheduled to leave there on July 9 and then he is to drop her off at McGuire AFB and he will return to his duty station in South Carolina.
He is supposed to deploy to Qatar in September for a six-month stint there. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is applying for a joint base assignment where the two could live together at the base he is at in South Carolina. But the paperwork to make that happen could take two to three months, she says, adding that by the time she arrives at Charleston AFB, he could already be off to Qatar.
“Obviously we don’t like it,” she said, “adding that she has already moved three times while in the military.
She talked about the challenge of meeting new people at her first duty station, and now could be faced with doing the same at Charleston without him to introduce her to people he knows and is friends with.
Wood interjected that he has talked to friends at Charleston about having them make many of those introductions in his absence.
One possible thing that could make it so he wouldn’t have to deploy to Qatar in September, is if he can find someone to take the deployment instead, he explained.
But “you have to have a good reason” for that to happen, and perhaps one of those reasons is just having gotten married, she said.
Wood said it will depend on his unit manager what will happen, and noted that he, Wood, has not been able to start the paperwork for that.
What got them
It was apparently Wood’s dog that brought the two together romantically. While they did work together loading cargo at McGuire, she hadn’t felt any pull into a romantic relationship with him, she said.
“He had just gotten a new puppy,” she said of his Australian-shepherd mix. “I didn’t really know him (Wood) that well.”
But because she liked his puppy a lot, she said, she started “hanging out” with him in order to be around the puppy. During that time she got “to know him and like him,” she said of Wood.
His attraction to her? “She’s very honest,” he began. “She is a hard worker. She has a good heart and she was very…I was very attracted to her. She didn’t complain like the other Air Force girls about doing a man’s job.”