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Joint effort makes Web wedding a reality

Maj. Mark McDaniel, 301st Fighter Wing Chaplain, recites wedding vows for Dr. Heather Cox and Marine Staff Sgt. Erik Mortenson (on Web cam) during a ceremony that took place recently at the Desert Storm Conference Center at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Cox, now Mrs. Erik Mortenson, connected over the Internet via Web cam to Sergeant Mortenson in Iraq to marry after both sides overcame many obstacles. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Julie Briden-Garcia)

Maj. Mark McDaniel, 301st Fighter Wing Chaplain, recites wedding vows for Dr. Heather Cox and Marine Staff Sgt. Erik Mortenson (on Web cam) during a ceremony that took place recently at the Desert Storm Conference Center at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Cox, now Mrs. Erik Mortenson, connected over the Internet via Web cam to Sergeant Mortenson in Iraq to marry after both sides overcame many obstacles. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Julie Briden-Garcia)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE -- They grew up in nearby communities, attended the same church and their parents went on mission trips together -- Dr. Heather Cox knew she would marry Staff Sgt. Erik Mortenson, but timing and circumstances did not allow the wedding to occur before this Marine Reservist departed for the desert in July. 
   Their 20-year friendship led to a courtship that began a year ago when they reunited at a local event. Sergeant Mortenson works as a civilian in sheet metal at Tinker Air Force Base and as a Reservist in ammunitions; Doctor Cox is a dentist in a nearby town. They became engaged after a few months of dating and were notified of Sergeant Mortenson's deployment in January.
   There were many preparations to be made: family and financial arrangements, wills drawn up, multiple deployment briefings and training courses and many other necessary tasks. With all of these steps combined with their families' discouragements to wed after only a few months of courtship, the couple decided to wait until he returned from his deployment.
   However, when Sergeant Mortenson left July 13 for his six-month deployment, the powers of love and the heart took charge.
   "I had a really hard time dealing with Erik being gone and having no military rights as a spouse," said Dr. Cox. "We would talk and kept thinking what if something happened and I needed to care for matters at home ... how would I handle it with no spousal rights?"
   Despite the distance, their relationship continued through e-mail, phone and instant messenger. After many conversations they confirmed they wanted to marry and were anxious to begin the ceremony as soon as possible.
   Sergeant Mortenson began a detailed research process to determine if they could make the wedding possible. He learned Texas and California were the only states to allow weddings by proxy.
   "When I mentioned to some people about a video conference wedding, they looked at me like I was crazy," the sergeant said. "But that didn't stop me from finding the details to make this happen."
   As he searched for bases in Texas to have the ceremony, he found Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth online. He also got the name of a contact that coordinated base events. Natalie Herndon, the Desert Storm conference room director, guided him through the steps that led to wedding.
   By the time he firmed up the details and got the paperwork over to Dr. Cox she headed to NAS JRB with a military spouse to be her witness and gain military access on the base. When Dr. Cox arrived at NAS JRB, she had to overcome several obstacles before the ceremony could begin.
   Meanwhile, Louis Siefert, civilian base operation for NAS JRB Fort Worth, set up the video teleconference for the ceremony. When performing test runs, he discovered the connection wouldn't work due to the firewall block coming from the desert and made a last minute switch to a Web camera.
   As the couple said their vows Chaplain Mark McDaniel read the closing and said, "You may now kiss the bride ... sorry I'm married and can't help you with this." Sergeant Mortenson then kissed the Web cam.
   "I felt 100 percent supported when I left," said Doctor Cox. "Everything about the whole day was just a miracle."
   It was the working parts of all branches that made this ceremony happen, said Ms. Herndon. The Navy hosted the facility and the Air Force provided a minister when a Marine got married--- this is the paramount model of a Joint Reserve Base."