Combat couple: how a cotton swab led to love

by Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler and Marine Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

(Editor’s note: Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler is a broadcaster and her husband, Marine Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, is a photojournalist. Shaun is on her first tour in Afghanistan as a combat correspondent. While the couple and their children have been separated by prior deployments, this is the first time Shaun has deployed while Aaron remained stateside. Shaun and Aaron have agreed to share their unique military experience with Air Force Live. In this installment, the couple relate how they met in a he-said/she-said format.)

Air Force Week kicks off in New York City

“You have some lint on your uniform.”

He picked a tiny piece of pink fuzz off my uniform. I knew his game. I was warned about the Marines. The rumor was they were always up to no good – especially when it came to girls.

“Here, you’ve got another one.”

“Thank you,” I snapped back and turned away. His sleeves were perfectly rolled. Mine were too, I assured myself.

“I should have never gotten that damn fleece blanket,” I thought. The pink fuzz clung to everything.

The line at the chow hall couldn’t move fast enough. I was determined to stay focused here. This was the Defense Information School – the beginning of my fresh start and the first step in my career as a military journalist. I would not be distracted by some pretty-boy Marine picking lint off my uniform while waiting in line at the chow hall.


I showed up at the Marine detachment at the Defense Information School not knowing what to expect. I made the decision to join the military when I was 18; I didn’t want to waste another day of my life, so I joined. All I knew about the Corps were the ditties they taught me in boot camp and that as a private first class, I was at the bottom of the totem pole.

Life at the schoolhouse wasn’t that bad. I was with Marines who had the same motivation – dangerously high and typical of a new Marine. Cammies were always perfect, cover sharp as hell, my room was spotless and PT was constant.

The best part about the school was that the only thing separating the Marine detachment from the Air Force detachment was a small basketball court and a smoke pit. Every morning, we’d strut outside for formation and PT, knowing the female Airmen could be watching. Little things like this caused major rivalries between the Marines and Airmen. It was the college experience most of us never had, crammed into a few months. I was having the time of my life. And then there was Salyers (Shaun).

I breezed through the line as quickly as I could; I wanted to avoid any conversation. I was terribly shy and constantly concerned about what other people thought of me. I was relieved when I lost sight of the Marine and his friend. I didn’t have the dim lights of the bar or the illusion of alcohol anymore. Now, all I had were the harsh fluorescents of a military dining facility and my personality. This caused me some anxiety.

I spotted a girlfriend at the back of the cafeteria, sitting at a table with two Marines.

I’d have to eat lunch with the lint-picker.

She was a challenge – had some pretty crazy pride in self and service. Her motivation was one of the things that attracted me the most.

But her smile struck me – and that laugh; I love that laugh. Despite the tightly-wound bun in her hair and tough exterior, I could see she was a free spirit. I just had to crack her shell.

“So what are you guys up to tonight?”

A guy did what he could.

“Really? That’s the best you’ve got?” I smirked to myself. Maybe I was being a little harsh. He was cute, and I couldn’t help but blush whenever his blue eyes met mine. I’m a sucker for terrible pickup lines anyhow; there’s something too endearing about them to resist.

“We’re actually going to the Commissary to get swabbed for the bone marrow drive,” I replied. “You should come,” I surprised myself by saying. “It’s for a good cause.” It was also a little test to see if these Marines had character.

We were new to the schoolhouse and restricted to base. Where else could we go? There were only a few places to hang out on the base: the PX, the bowling alley and the golf course. You didn’t take a girl you wanted to impress to the golf course right away – that was best left for things done after dark, and she wasn’t that kind of girl.

When we got there I saw my chance to impress her. The event volunteers were taking cotton swab samples from the saliva in people’s mouths. The samples would then be sent to labs and logged in a database to see if donors were a match for someone who needed marrow.

I figured what the hell? I can give up some spit to impress this girl.

I didn’t know if it worked, so I gave up and decided to help my buddy out. He hadn’t stopped talking about her since lunch.

After all that, lame pickup line and all, he took the high road at the last minute and decided to back off so his friend could make a move. I was disappointed. I noticed when Aaron was the only one of them to get swabbed that day; the friend didn’t even bother.

It would be two years after we left DINFOS before Aaron would learn that his attempt to impress me worked. That simple little cotton swab and a desire to impress would bring us together not once, but twice. The truth is, the cotton swab would be the cause for a number of events in our life together.

Read the first “Combat couple” entry.