Around Minnesota, thousands of soldiers in the National Guard are preparing to leave home for at least a year.
In just a couple months, nearly 2,400 citizen soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls will be shipped to Kuwait as part of the U.S. drawdown phase in Iraq.
Many marry their sweethearts before heading overseas. It's an emotional decision, but also a practical one that offers insurance and a monthly combat allowance for the family left behind.
For one soldier from Dodge Center, the uncertainty of a deployment meant scrambling to plan his bride's dream wedding ... in less than a week.
View a photo gallery of the wedding.
In the basement of the Pleasant Corners Church, in Kasson, Minn., Spc. Brian Wunderlich, 26, pulls his "Class A" service uniform from a garment bag and dresses in the makeshift dressing room alongside one of his groomsmen.
In the room next door is his fiancee, Margarita Jacobson, 29, and her bridesmaids.
A previous injury has left Wunderlich's deployment uncertain. But in case he goes, he knew the wedding would have to happen early. That's also because several of his friends, including some in the wedding party, are preparing to deploy. So he moved the wedding from June to Saturday.
"It took a lot of headwork to figure out; who's going to be in the wedding because everyone was going to be overseas," Wunderlich said. "It all worked out."
Upstairs, the midday sun fills the small white sanctuary that's located on a gravel road in the cornfields south of Kasson.
Wunderlich and Jacobson kneel on the steps of the altar. Three groomsmen are dressed in their own crisp military uniforms. The bridesmaids wear long, black satin dresses. About 35 friends and relatives fill the pews of this tiny congregation.
Reverend Karen Seavey reads a prayer of blessing:
"We ask that you would bless them as a family. Be with Brian and others as they deploy into Kuwait and other places, so that they may be protected and safe. Give strength to all their family members who will be away from them so they can endure during those difficult days. And give them all a sense of your blessing, Lord."
After the ceremony, Wunderlich explains he's still not 100 percent sure whether his medical clearance will let him deploy with his friends. He's deployed once before, to Kosovo, and now he wants to earn a combat patch from the Army.
But whether he deploys or not, one thing is certain: Wunderlich's daily life has shifted since serving overseas became a possibility again.
"There's never enough time to get everything done," Wunderlich said. "They key thing is being married. She's going to be able to call the credit card company, call the bank, and okay 'we'll be able to do that.'
Jacobson knows becoming a military wife at a time of deployment is a hardship, particularly because she's already raising an 8-year-old son from a previous marriage. But it was something she felt compelled to do.
"I wanted him to know before he walked out that door, that I'm committed to him," she said. "Going up to the VA and see how some of those guys are when they get back, it was hard. It was a really hard decision. But at the end of the day, I love him no matter what.
Outside the small white church, some of Wunderlich's buddies stand around the back of his truck, prop open a cooler and drink some beers. They use a piece of rope to tie the empty cans to the getaway truck.
When he comes out of the church, Wunderlich said its moments like this he'll think of when he gets homesick or lonely overseas.
"Being married before going over ... it's something you can always look back if you're having a rough time," Wunderlich said. "Because I'll have the videos, I'll have everything with me. So if I'm having a really cruddy day and I want to just be back home, all I'll have to do is turn on my computer and just go back over the memory."
Wunderlich said supporting each other at home is a big part of preparing for a deployment. So is leaving everything in place for his new family.
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