Love is powerful and will conquer all. For all the soldiers who sacrifice their lives and their loved ones who sacrifice the time they could be spending together, we thank you for this. For all the veterans who have sacrificed their lives and their loved ones who have sacrificed the time they could have spent together, we thank you. The following story is a depiction of true love – a story where two soldiers stood by each other through the good times, and the bad.
Would you travel 10,000 miles to risk a chance on love? Well that is just what Stacey Conlogue did for her chance at love with Jeff Conlogue, a young man she had fallen in love with. Stacey had joined the Navy Reserves when she was just 19 years old and Jeff, also 19, had joined the United States Navy two weeks later. Both would be completing Boot Camp in Pensicola, Fla., at the same time, although they didn’t know this until later. Following Boot Camp, both would attend A School in Pensicola, where they would ultimately meet for the first time.
Stacey’s father had also been in the Navy Reserves. So when he came home one night after work and said there was this new program in the Reserves that would pay for school, Stacey’s interest was sparked. He told Stacey that she should check it out and that is just what she did.
“My dad said, ‘Stacey, you need to check out this new program because it could pay for your college,’ and so I decided to check it out,” said Stacey. “It wasn’t an easy decision and I ultimately chose the job I did because it was in Pensicola, Fla. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Plus, it was a place my family had vacationed at for years.”
Jeff’s dad had also been in the military. He had joined the United States Navy and Jeff was about to become the 4th military generation in his family. His grandfather was infantry during World War II and his great-grandfather was infantry in World War I. Jeff knew he didn’t want to continue working in the heating and air industry, especially in Maine where he had grown up.
“I joined the United States Navy because I knew I didn’t want to be in the heating and air business in Maine,” stated Jeff. “It was cold and I would come home with soot up to my elbows. I wanted to do something different. My dad was in the Navy, so I decided to join.”
In 1986, Jeff and Stacey met at A School in Pensicola. Stacey, from Texas and Jeff, from Maine, would spend the next three years getting to know one another before they would ultimately decide to attempt their chance at love. And it wasn’t what one would consider typical courting or dating. No, because Stacey was in the Reserves and Jeff was active duty. They would only get to know one another during Stacey’s two-weeks-a-year training periods, for the next three years, where she would fly to Misawa, Japan, which is where Jeff was stationed.
“After A School, I went back to Texas and went to school,” said Stacey. “Jeff went active duty and was stationed in Misawa, Japan. As a reservist, I was supposed to work one weekend a month and two weeks a year. So for those two weeks a year, I was sent to Misawa, Japan, to train and I did that for three years. And each year, Jeff and I would see each other and spend time with friends, and we got to know one another. By the third year, when I boarded the plane, I was just hysterical. I couldn’t stop crying. And that’s when I knew. That last year was a little different because that year of training, Jeff had the same shift as me. He was the shift supervisor and we got to spend a lot more time together. I hadn’t cried before.”
Stacey knew that she had fallen in love with the man that she’d see for just two weeks a year for the past three years. Stacey decided it was time to enlist and go active duty. So, in 1990, Stacey went active duty in the United States Navy and requested to be stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where Jeff was.
“I chased him 10,000 miles!” stated Stacey. “I decided to take a chance. I had never dated or had a boyfriend before and I decided to take the risk. I was actually supposed to be stationed in Edzell, Scotland. But there was a man there that was interested in me and I just wasn’t. I wanted to be in Okinawa, Japan, where Jeff was, so I asked for a favor – to be stationed in Okinawa instead. And thankfully, I was stationed in Okinawa. My friends gave me a hard time saying, ‘Stacey, you really chose Okinawa, Japan, over Scotland? Are you crazy?’ Yes, I was crazy and I decided to take that chance.”
Even though Stacey and Jeff hadn’t really ever spoken about their interest in one another, they both knew they wanted to be together. And what is funny about the situation is that they never dated in those first three years of training together. They just spent time together and with friends getting to know each other. But once Stacey was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, she decided to have a conversation with Jeff to find out just what Jeff’s intentions with her were.
“Stacey confronted me,” remembered Jeff. “We had a conversation and she wanted to know if she was just wasting her time or if this was going somewhere. We probably officially started dating just a couple weeks after she got stationed in Okinawa, and have been together ever since.”
After about three to three and a half months of dating, Jeff decided to propose to Stacey on her birthday, Sept. 22. They were engaged for about a year before they tied the knot back in Texas, the place where Stacey had grown up and called ‘home.’ She had to save up time for leave before they could get married and she even had to request permission to get married – also known as a chit request.
“I still have that chit request asking for permission to get married,” stated Stacey. “It’s in our wedding album. We took about a month off to get married. We flew back to Maine so I could meet his family, then we flew to Texas to have the wedding. It was always a dream of mine to have an August wedding and we were married in August.”
After the two tied the knot, they took off for the airport to catch a plane to their honeymoon destination, which was…..well they didn’t know. They had ‘space-available’ tickets due to being stationed overseas so they stood in the airport, looking at flights to random destinations, which had to have two ‘space-available’ seats. The only flight that did was one to Vegas. So they jumped on a plane to Vegas for their honeymoon. They spent a few days there, before heading to Los Angeles, Calif., for a few days before flying back to Okinawa, Japan.
Ten months after getting married, the two were stationed in Hawaii. So, in 1992, Stacey and Jeff transferred to Hawaii, where Jeff wouldn’t remain. Just as soon as they were stationed there, Jeff had to leave for some additional schooling, before flying to Maine for seven months while the boat he would be stationed on was being built before voyaging to Hawaii. In total, Jeff spent seven months away, after 10 months together. From the time the couple had left Okinawa until after they left Hawaii, which was about a three and a half year time span, the two would spend a total of 15 to 16 months together and the rest apart. This type of lifestyle would become the couple’s normalcy over the next 15 years.
When Stacey’s enlistment was up in 1995, she decided not to re-enlist. She only had a month before their first child, a son, was due to be born. She remembers thinking that she had put in almost 10 years into the service, but she just couldn’t see continuing on in the military with children. So through several more duty station transfers and deployments, the couple would add three more children to their ever-growing family, while Jeff remained in the service for another 12 years.
From Hawaii to Virginia to Florida to West Virginia to Georgia, and back to West Virginia, the young family would travel the country, supporting their dad and husband in his duty to his country. It wasn’t always easy. Jeff remembers one specific duty station where out of another three and a half years he spent about 65 percent of that time deployed. It is what became ‘normal’ for the family – to spend a few weeks together, and then many months apart. That is what becomes normal for most all military families – one of love and sacrifice.
“I just know he was gone a lot,” remembered Stacey. “He was on a lot of ships. Too many to count or keep track of. Jeff retired in February of 2008, after 22 years in the Navy. I was and still am proud of Jeff.”
Out of his time spent in the Navy, Jeff had been stationed on 17 different ships, had been to 29 ports (nine of which were U.S. ports) in 24 countries, plus three U.S. territories including Guam, St. Thomas, and Puerto Rico. The couple missed their first, third, fifth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, and fourteenth wedding anniversaries.
“The years that he missed our anniversary, he also missed my birthday,” said Stacey. “Plus he missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter that first year. But he always managed to be home every year on his birthday!”
As much as Jeff needs to be recognized for his service and dedication to this country, it is oftentimes the unsung heroes that don’t get recognized – the wives, children, and families of the service men and women. The ones who sacrifice their time with their loved ones. The ones who keep the family moving and functioning back at home. The ones who don’t know if their loved one will make it back home safe or in one piece. It is these unsung heroes that also need to be recognized and thanked in addition to our service men, women, and veterans.
And for the ones that make it through, together, they deserve some special recognition. The military life-style isn’t an easy one and the divorce rate is extremely high. So to make it through not one person’s service, but two, is something to note and highlight. But it is another thing to continue on with four children, probably with at least half of the time spent raising those children alone.
To sum up his service, Jeff ends with this quote by John F. Kennedy aboard the USS Kitty Hawk on June 6, 1963:
“I can imagine no more rewarding career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.’”
And to military spouses, Stacey says the following:
“They’ve got a hard job. I’m not going to say it’s harder than the service members, but it’s a hard job – to be mom and dad, wearing all different kinds of hats. I commend them, every one of them. If I could offer any advice, it’s to stay involved. Don’t seclude yourself. If you need the help, seek it. It’s a tough job. I don’t think we’re meant to do it alone. My heart aches for that other person, male or female, because I know what they’ve been through. And remember to take the good with the bad. It hasn’t always been easy, but I have always loved and still love my country.”