By Senior Airman Michelle Patten
Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Some people meet their significant others in public places like grocery stores, restaurants or school. Others create profiles on dating websites to search for their future spouses. My story doesn’t follow any of these examples. Instead, I found my future husband smack in the middle of a busy firing range at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
I’d like to say it was love at first sight, but that would be a lie. It took a little help from the Air Force for us to find each other and realize we’d met our match.
As an Air Force photojournalist, I was tasked to write a story about the base’s security forces squadron. When I arrived, cops were beginning active shooter training. They ran and ducked behind obstacles to shoot at targets while instructors shouted guidance. After observing the training for awhile, I interviewed two staff sergeants about their experiences. The second interviewee had an accent I couldn’t place and seemed eager to talk at length, but I was pressed by my editor’s deadline so I jotted down their answers and went back to the office to write the story.
In my career field, you sometimes find yourself wondering who reads your stories published in the base newspaper. So, when a male Airman mentioned my cop training article at a party, I was surprised and flattered. I asked him what made him read that particular article. To my immense embarrassment, he said he read the article because he was one of the two Airmen I interviewed for the story!
I proceeded to turn a bright shade of red as I realized he was the staff sergeant with the odd accent, which I learned later came from growing up in Wisconsin. Despite my flub, he still spoke with humor about the situation. After our conversation, be both went our separate ways as I wrote him off as a nice guy who was now an acquaintance.
A couple months later, I found myself writing another security forces story where I got to work with the “forgotten interviewee” named Staff Sgt. Alex Patten. This time, I recognized him and remembered our conversation from the party. After working with him for a week on the article, we both realized there might be a reason we keep running into each other so we eventually began dating.
Our jobs continued to bring us together whether Alex was investigating a traffic accident or I was responding to a crime scene as an alert photographer. We often found ourselves working on the same issues from different perspectives.
At times, it felt like we weren’t dating just each other, but both of our units as well. Whether it was my shop asking for one of Alex’s homemade apple pies or his squadron trying to convince me to do a Taser demo (I declined), the Air Force was part of our relationship. So, it was only natural for Alex to get my office and his squadron involved in his elaborate wedding proposal.
Since I often copyedited stories for my shop, Alex asked if he could stop by so I could read over an operating instruction he was rewriting. I said sure, though later during the day our lieutenant came into the office to tell everyone we’d need to stay longer at the end of the duty day. As an Airman, my first thought was someone was in trouble and the whole shop will hear about it. I cautioned Alex that it may not be a good time for him to come by, but he insisted.
With the thought of the lieutenant’s impromptu meeting on my mind, I was impatient when Alex walked in with a close precision engagement OI he wanted me to edit. With red pen in hand, I began to correct all the errors. I noticed random capitalization typos throughout the document. I even said to Alex, “I don’t know how you could make so many mistakes. This is pretty bad writing.”
At this point, other Airmen from my shop started to assemble around my desk, and some were even taking photos. I disregarded their behavior, and I also failed to notice that Alex was on one knee next to my desk as I continued to correct the mistakes.
Finally, after circling several capitalized letters, I realized it spelled out, “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” All at once, I jumped up and saw the ring he was holding. In my excitement, I didn’t shout “Yes” or “I love you,” but “There’s a ring!” Apparently the proposal was the reason the lieutenant had wanted the shop to stay after work because Alex called ahead to let them in on his plan.
Sharing that special moment with my Air Force family was only topped by our courthouse wedding. About 30 people from our units came to see us exchange our vows. You could see the courthouse clerk cringe when she saw the big, rowdy crowd. Her dismay increased when our co-workers decided to light sparklers outside the courthouse, and we were told to celebrate off the premises.
While most people are not asked to leave their own wedding, for Alex and I, nothing would have made sense but to start off our marriage the same way we met; surrounded by the Air Force we both love to serve and a few mild incendiary devices.