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Minnesota National Guard
Soldier in Iraq marries bride in Minn.

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn, - When it came time for a Minnesota National Guardsman to kiss the bride, she was some 6,000 miles away

But that didn't matter Wednesday, as Spc Abraham Rhode and Amanda Hart used video teleconferencing to be joined together as husband and wife
"When we said our vows, that's when we became one," Hart said, trying to hold back her emotion after the short ceremony "It was pretty exciting, overwhelming"

Hart said Rhode was supposed to come home from Iraq this month and help her plan their August wedding But when his deployment got extended - and they learned there was a baby on the way - they decided to exchange vows over a video connection

Nationwide, video teleconferencing has been used to virtually bring Soldiers home, even if just for a moment, to experience life-changing events such as a child's graduation, a birth, or a memorial service Rhode and Hart are among a handful of couples who have opted for long-distance nuptials as the war continues to keep them physically separated

"With our unit being extended over there, a lot of people just decided they didn't want to be single any longer, regardless of how they have to do it," said Phil Stephan, the video operations manager for the Minnesota National Guard

Rhode, 25, is in Tallil, Iraq, with Company E, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry After the nuptials, he said he was happy, but he couldn't wait to see his bride in person

"Honestly, I will be overjoyed to see her," he said "You miss out on a whole bunch of little things I'm missing out on the pregnancy but I'm happy to be here and be serving my country"

Hart called Rhode her "knight in shining armor" who is a thinker by nature She said his calm demeanor balances her outgoing personality

"I know that we will last," she said

On her wedding day, Hart wore a knee-length white skirt, a white blazer and strappy white shoes The 21-year-old carried a mixed bouquet and clutched her father's arm as she walked into a room at the National Guard armory in Inver Grove Heights She continued to hold his arm during the ceremony, as her witness stood to her left, and about a dozen family members and friends sat and watched

She looked at Rhode's image on the video screen He stood in his combat uniform, with his best man at his side and his hands clasped in front of him Every now and then he broke into a huge grin

"Abe and Mandy, I don't know if you could've imagined your day could be quite like this," joked Lt. Col. Joel Severson, the National Guard chaplain who presided over the service

Hart said the wedding wasn't the fairy tale ceremony she had imagined, but she was glad the National Guard helped make it happen The couple plans an in-person ceremony in Florida next summer, and they'll live in Shakopee, Minn, once Rhode returns from Iraq

Stephan, the Guard's video operations manager, said this was the Minnesota National Guard's fourth video teleconference wedding One couple got married a few years ago during the conflict in Kosovo, and two couples tied a long-distance knot last month between Minnesota and Iraq

Stephan said the Guard is also supporting three more upcoming weddings - but those involve groomsmen or relatives who want to participate in the ceremonies but are serving overseas

In cases like this, the National Guard has worked with the county issuing the marriage license to ensure the marriages are legal and the signature of the person overseas is notarized, said Vern Truax, a family readiness coordinator for the Guard

After Rhode and Hart said their vows, the chaplain said: "You may now blow yourselves a long-distance kiss"

They did And Hart turned around and smiled sweetly as she was introduced, for the first time, as Mrs Abraham Rhode

"Hopefully, just a few more months - and hopefully, we'll have a real kiss," she said

By Amy Forliti - The Associated Press
March 29, 2007

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