Despite war, young couple perseveres

By James Alex Bonus |

After a year of waiting, only minutes keep them apart.

Jenniffer DuBose watches as the bus rumbles to a stop. Her heart skips as soldiers, one-by-one, step down onto the sidewalk.

She spots her fiancé, Troy Edenfield — his familiar face hiding beneath a camouflage cap. Her heart tells her to run and embrace him, but her mind locks her in place.

As he marches down the sidewalk toward the National Guard Armory, she follows parallel on the lawn. He’s noticed her, but he, too, must restrain his excitement.

Two hearts. Inches apart. Separated by circumstance. Begging to meet.

DuBose’s aunt comforts her. “You’ve made it this far,” she says. “Just a few more minutes.”

Tears flow freely. Others cheer as they spot their loved ones marching into the armory. When all the soldiers have entered, the crowd pursues.

Inside, the soldiers line up in front of a stage. National Guard officials congratulate them for successful completion of their mission in Iraq. Family members crowd around the group, waiting to pounce on their loved ones.

DuBose is among them. Her leg twitches anxiously while her eyes, still wet, jump from solider to soldier, searching for the one that belongs to her.

Finally, it happens.

“Families, are you ready to reunite with your soldiers?” the troop commander asks from the stage. The crowd answers with a boisterous cheer.

“Dismissed!” the commander yells.

DuBose calls for her fiancé as she pushes through the crowd of families reuniting, her feet scurrying past herds of flip-flops mingling with combat boots.

When Edenfield finds her, his words come easily.

“I love you,” he whispers.

She cries. He smiles. They kiss — two pieces of a broken heart merging back as one.

. . .

The return of the National Guard 1153rd financial management detachment on Nov. 3 was characterized by palpable devotion. The St. Augustine-based unit arrived at the National Guard Armory on San Marco Boulevard after spending almost a year in Baghdad handling $10 million of financial transactions and disbursing military pay.

All 25 soldiers met praise from their superiors for outperforming all other financial units and for maintaining an above-average 98.8 percent accuracy rating for all transactions processed throughout the year. Before dismissing them to their families, the detachment commander commended the soldiers for their demonstrated perseverance in accomplishing their duties.

For DuBose and Edenfield, the day was particularly special. In some ways, the sacrifices they’ve made over the past year have been typical of most military families, often characterized by loneliness and longing.

But in others, they’ve managed to overcome obstacles that not many face.

First, they’re young. DuBose is only 19 years old while Edenfield is just shy of his 21st birthday, making him the youngest member in his detachment. Second, the two were engaged just before Edenfield’s deployment. So they’ve not only missed each other — they’ve been planning a wedding.

Despite their separation, both have remained committed to building their future as a couple. And looking at their history together, it’s clear that perseverance has characterized more than just Edenfield’s work in the National Guard — it’s emerged as the cornerstone of their relationship.

From Puppy Love to War Zones

DuBose and Edenfield met at the ages of 5 and 6. DuBose’s aunt, Selina Barnes, lived next to the Edenfield family, so DuBose visited often. By elementary school, their love for each other had already blossomed.

“We did our whole puppy love thing in the third grade,” DuBose said.

As they got older, DuBose would tell her parents she was going to visit Barnes when really she just wanted to see Edenfield. Though they went to separate high schools — DuBose to St. Johns Technical and Edenfield to St. Augustine — by 2007 they were officially dating.

When Edenfield entered his senior year in 2008, he looked to join the National Guard. His father, Troy Edenfield Sr., was supportive initially, but his mother, Michele Edenfield, was harder to convince. Since the younger Edenfield hadn’t turned 18, he would need their permission to sign up.

“He asked a recruiter if there was a possibility that he’d go to Iraq and he said most definitely,” his father said.

For his mother, committing her son to war wasn’t a future she’d envisioned. However, Edenfield, gave her an ultimatum: sign him up, or he’d do it himself once he turned 18.

She agreed, and Edenfield entered a six-year contract.

Over the next year, Edenfield and DuBose were forced to come to terms with the future before them. The drew on a lot of support from their family.

For DuBose, her aunt’s past experiences sending her husband off to war offered inspiration.

“Everyone missed my uncle when he would go overseas, but I saw how strong their relationship was,” she said.

For Edenfield, conversations he had with his grandfather before he passed away provided the motivation he needed to follow through with his decision.

“He was never able to join because he was an only son, so when the draft came around they wouldn’t draft him,” he said. “Besides my cousin, nobody in my generation at the time was in the military, and I wanted to do something for my mom’s side of the family. For my grandpa.”

Realizing the financial benefits the National Guard could provide also spurred his decision to join. After conversations sparked about getting engaged to DuBose, the educational and experiential benefits of joining also looked attractive to the young couple.

Upon learning about the future the National Guard could provide her son, Edenfield’s mother found it easier to support.

“I stood behind him and I always will,” she said.

A Vow for Marriage and a Ticket to War

After graduating high school, Edenfield travelled to South Carolina for four months of basic training. It was the first time he had been away from his family for more than a few weeks.

“It was fun, besides the whole waking up in the middle of the night and getting yelled at for someone doing something wrong,” he said. “It was a whole new experience.”

When he returned home in November, his mind turned to engagement.

He decided to propose the same way his father proposed to his mother — a simple, surprise event in his car.

“My dad didn’t do all the little ‘Prince Charming’ stuff — he did it in a truck,” Edenfield said. “Well, like father like son.”

DuBose was shocked when it happened. Edenfield was acting strangely — stopping at stop signs and searching awkwardly through his pockets. Finally, he stopped the truck and held out a box.

The truck was dark and DuBose couldn’t see what he was holding. Edenfield fumbled around for a light, then popped the question.

“I looked at the ring and started bawling my eyes out and said ‘yes, of course,'” DuBose said.

She later learned Edenfield had acted so flustered because he had dropped the ring after getting in the car and was frantically searching for it.

“It was really memorable,” she said.

The joy of their engagement was short-lived. By the end of January, Edenfield received his orders for deployment to Baghdad. Over the next few months he travelled for more training, returning home one last time over Thanksgiving to see his family.

DuBose described the holiday as emotional. Edenfield agreed.

“It was up-and-down,” he said. “I was really happy to be home but then I was getting ready to leave in a few days. It was a roller coaster.”

DuBose’s eyes welled up with tears as she remembered his departure.

“It’s never goodbye, it’s always see you later — always,” she said. “Goodbye means forever.”

A Journey Through the Sandbox

Describing his experiences in Iraq, Edenfield speaks casually.

“He makes it sound like no big deal,” DuBose said. “There’s bombs blowing up but he’s just like, it’s no big deal.”

Though such bravery stems only from the confidence of a war-weary warrior, in truth, Edenfield admits he was scared at times during his stay in the “great big sandbox.”

Most days were typical. He would wake up at 5 a.m., exercise and get to work cashiering for the day. He’d return to his room at night — sometimes Skyping with DuBose and his family — and be in bed by 9 or 10 p.m.

As the youngest member of his detachment, Edenfield felt extra pressure to avoid making mistakes.

“I just got in the groove and went with it,” he said.

However, some days reminded him of the imminent dangers of war.

“They used to shoot stuff into our base, which was probably the scariest thing,” he said. “On Christmas night they decided to shoot some stuff at us. That kind of woke us up and made us realize it’s not a game.”

Even since his return home, he still jumps at the sounds of some cell phones that remind him of the echoes of war.

“That kind of stuff didn’t happen every day,” he said. “But it was those days that make you realize why we do what we do.”

Back home, DuBose was adjusting to life alone. She often felt guilty going out and having fun with friends, so she spent much of her time with Edenfield’s mom or her aunt.

“Having her around was great,” Edenfield’s mom said. “She’s always welcome in my house and she knows that.”

Still, the times DuBose did see her friends, she couldn’t get her fiancé out of her head.

“Everyone always asked what [Edenfield] was up to and I’d tell them the stories of what’s going on over there and what he’s doing,” she said. “But if there were couples there — like boyfriends and girlfriends in puppy love — I’d have to turn my back and go the other way because it was hard seeing everybody together.”

She and the rest of Edenfield’s family kept their minds occupied planning the couple’s wedding.

“I’d be lost if it weren’t for Skype,” DuBose said.

She would often discuss plans with Edenfield during their nightly conversations, even holding up magazine pages and other visuals to get his opinion on decorations.

Like most grooms, Edenfield often just wanted to appease his future wife.

“I just agreed and pretty much said ‘yes m’am,'” he said. “You know, I’m not a big fan of pink but I’ll wear it just so that she gets off my back. It is what it is.”

The wedding — set for April — is completely planned.

“All he has to do is show up,” DuBose said.

Skype had other benefits. If Edenfield wanted to watch a football game, his father would sometimes put his computer in front of the television so they could view it together.

“I’d be like, ‘hey did you see that play?'” Edenfield said. “It was something we used to do when I was home, so it kind of motivated me to not give up.”

Though his father appreciated getting to spend time with his son despite the miles between them, those moments reminded him how much he missed him.

“I missed my buddy, plain and simple,” he said. “I don’t show emotions like my wife does, but I missed him and just hanging out watching football or fishing.”

A Warrior’s Return to a Life, Renewed

As the months passed, the young couple adjusted to their separation. The support of the Edenfield family kept DuBose motivated, and care packages from home filled with roasted peanuts and Vienna sausages gave Edenfield the boost he needed to get through the day-to-day.

“The little stuff is what counts,” he said.

The night before the detachment’s return to St. Augustine, DuBose was in a frenzy. She couldn’t sleep. She cleaned her room and washed clean clothes just to keep busy.

“I was literally freaking out,” she said.

Her nerves carried over to the next day as the families of all 25 soldiers gathered at the National Guard Armory to welcome them home. DuBose made sure her family arrived extra early — just in case the bus ran ahead of schedule.

When Edenfield finally returned and the couple was allowed to reunite, they both felt relief that their lives could return to normal.

DuBose worried she’d have trouble getting Edenfield to do anything, but to her surprise, the rigor of military life was hard to shake. He still continues to wake up early — sometimes as early as 4 a.m. — and he’s found it hard to sit still.

“I’m even getting bored playing video games, which is so unlike me,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, it just doesn’t feel right. To me, being home right now is still a dream, but it still feels like they’re going to pick up the phone and call me back.”

However, he has enjoyed having a wider selection of food — taking the first opportunity after coming back to get a hamburger from McDonald’s.

“I got actual food,” he said. “It tasted real.”

Now, both DuBose and Edenfield are looking to the future for their next best move. DuBose is looking for a job and planning to apply to school. Edenfield hopes to start a career with the local National Guard financial unit and is even considering serving again in Kuwait after his wedding.

“The jobs around here they don’t pay as much,” he said. “Trying to get a job here in the civilian world is kind of hard, especially when I could just volunteer for deployment and get paid more.”

And for a couple with wedding bills and plans to build a house, money is a top priority.

Still, Edenfield hopes to take some time to enjoy the things he’s missed since he left for Iraq.

“It’s made me appreciate the things I have here now,” he said. “I’d rather be aggravated by [DuBose] than sitting over there sweating my butt off in a sandstorm.”

And for both the young lovers, only one word can describe their life reunited.

“Happy,” they said.

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