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Veterans meet, fall in love overseas during deployment in Iraq

Veterans meet, fall in love overseas during deployment in Iraq

Veterans meet, fall in love overseas during deployment in Iraq
April 24
21:47 2013

Caroline Basile / Contributing Writer

Danielle Smith didn’t join the Army in 2006 to find love, but love found her.

In late 2008, Smith was a medic, and stationed at Tallil Air Base in Iraq. One dusty, windy day at the base, outside of Nasiriyah, she met her future husband, Justin Hofmeister, an infantry soldier with the Army.

Hofmeister worked as a gunner, typically standing at a turret, bouncing around the top of a Humvee, travelling along the war-torn paths in southern Iraq.

The two were stationed at the base for nearly six months before they crossed paths when Smith was assigned to accompany Hofmeister’s squad on a convoy mission in April 2009.

“I remember being so intimidated by him at first,” Smith said. “He was really cute but quiet and reserved. He seemed unapproachable, and I had to focus on work. I wasn’t there for anything else.”

The presence of death loomed over daily activities, as the soldiers who went on missions faced the uncertainty of not returning.  Those sent into battle might form close, intense relationships quickly, living each day as though it would be their last. For Smith and Hofmeister, however, the bond forged in combat was just the beginning.

Blossoming relationship

After their daily duties during their convoy missions, Hofmeister would randomly show up wherever Smith was and start asking her questions about herself.

Once, during a midnight meal, Smith remembers him joining her in the mess hall and she told him of her stories as a medic from her previous missions.

“We were eating spaghetti and melon,” she said. “He starts asking me about the crazy things I’ve seen and while we’re eating, I’m telling him about sewing up people and the other gruesome aspects that come with my job.”

Hofmeister said he remembers the conversation clearly and he was slightly disturbed by her descriptions.

“I remember looking at her, saying ‘Well then…’ and I got up and left the table,” he said. Smith never meant to “gross him out,” she said, laughing.

During another mission together, Smith handed Hofmeister her camera and asked him to take some photos for her, since he had a 360-degree view from the turret he manned in the Humvee. After the mission, the group rushed back to base and Smith lost track of Hofmeister and her camera.

“I was afraid that I wouldn’t get my camera back,” she said. “And if I did, I was scared it would be one of those ‘here you go, see ya later’ type of things, where he handed it back and just walked away.”

Smith went out on a limb and wrote a note to Hofmeister with her contact information. She cautiously passed it along to a battle buddy, asking that he pass it to Hofmeister.

“I was waiting, sort of frantic, for an email or anything,” she said. ”I was almost going to give up, but then I received an email from him.”

After several weeks of flirting, a few not-so-romantic dates at chow halls, and a four-day leave to the neighboring nation of Qatar, Smith and Hofmeister grew inseparable.

Smith’s roommate and a fellow Army medic, Christa Martin, said Smith would act like a “giddy, giggly teenager” after being with Hofmeister.

“Her face would light up, and she’d always talk about how wonderful everything was with him and how she was so happy,” Martin said. “I was worried he’d break her heart before we left Iraq.”

Hofmeister’s tour of duty was up before Smith’s. He planned a trip to Europe before returning home to Denton, and Smith grew anxious if she’d ever see him again.

She wrote a note for “The Hof,” as she called him, a prescription from “The Doc,” as he called her.  It read, “Take it easy, visit Europe, enjoy being home, and make sure to write to me.” She signed her name with a heart over the “i,” and before he left, slipped it into his pocket.

Coming home

For many soldiers, returning home is a culture shock.

“When you’re over there you know exactly how everyone else feels when you hear a mortar go off, or any other attack coming in,” Smith said. “It’s like telepathy, you feel terror, fear, excitement, anger, rage, and all of these emotions, and you are an adrenaline junkie by the end. When you come home, you don’t get that. It’s supposed to be peaceful. But veterans, I think, rarely adjust to that.”

Hofmeister convinced Smith not to extend her tour of duty – instead she moved from Kansas to Denton and transferred to the Texas Army National Guard.  Living with Hofmeister’s family, she began to adjust to civilian life, and a new part of the country.

Gay Roder, Hofmeister’s mother, remembers that when her son returned from Iraq, he still was mentally “on guard” and that even today, he and Smith are still adjusting.

“It’s like you have to deal with everything all at once,” Roder said. “There was no easing in, it was instantaneous, but the reality is, you come back home and the experience you just had doesn’t go away.”

Smith and Hofmeister were married in October 2011, just after their son, Lukas, was born. Smith works as a medical officer with the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, and Hofmeister will be a “stay-at-home dad” until he starts attending classes at UNT in the fall.

Transitioning to civilian life can be hard for veterans, especially when raising a family, Hofmeister said. One of the best things a veteran can do is talk to their battle buddies, fellow vets who know what you’re going through because they were there, too.

“We’re really fortunate,” Smith said, smiling at her husband. “We get to see ours every day.”

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