ODESSA ó The Rev. Rick Lackore gave Gregory Edwards permission to kiss his bride, and Edwards took the moment to show all 40 of his guests the feelings he doesn't often put into words.
He stepped toward Kathleen Evans and planted a long one on her in front of Crescent Lake at Old McMicky's Barn on Feb. 6.
"When the reverend said, 'You may now kiss the bride,' that was my favorite part," said Greg, 34, a disabled Army veteran who lives in Seminole. "I just did what I wanted to do."
Kat remembered the kiss as "sweet and church appropriate," if a little long.
"He wanted to take the veil off himself," said Kat, 29, a disabled Air Force veteran and business student at Potomac College. "My dad removed the veil, though, so he went for the kiss."
It took several miracles for Greg and Kat to get to the altar that day, and neither of them takes any of their luck for granted. Choosing to serve their country and ultimately being hurt in the line of duty put them both in the right place to meet the person they hope to spend the rest of their lives with. It's a fate filled with daily challenges, but one they embrace on their walk together.
Greg, a New Jersey native, was working in Home Depot when he decided that a career in the Army would give him a chance to travel and see more of the world than what the Garden State had to offer. He enlisted and was trained as a combat medic. He'd spend 18 months in Iraq before returning stateside in 2004. It would take two more years for a Veterans Affairs doctor to diagnose the terror he was experiencing as post-traumatic stress disorder.
In 2010, he traveled to a VA hospital in West Virginia for intensive treatment. Outside the doctor's office, in the hallways and around the campus, he kept seeing the same girl.
"She was beautiful," Greg said. "It started casually as a friendship and just developed from there."
Kat had come to the West Virginia hospital for treatment of her traumatic brain injury and PTSD. Right after high school, she enlisted in the Air Force hoping to travel the world. She learned purchasing and supplies and rose to the rank of senior airman before a fateful day in Iraq changed her life. Insurgents attacked her convoy with a rocket-propelled grenade, sending another truck hurtling into the truck she was riding in.
"Our truck flipped and I left Iraq right after being injured," she said.
Remembering tiny details is still a struggle, and stressful situations can trigger attacks for Kat.
Greg understood her feelings and provided her with a sounding board for all she was dealing with during treatment.
"He is very laid back and he's very open to new things," Kat said. "He's very easygoing, and when I'm trying to do things he's supportive. And he's a good friend. He's a good listener and very active."
Greg left treatment first to attend college in Jacksonville as part of the Wounded Warriors project. Kat returned to her native New York, but it wasn't long before Greg came calling again.
"I knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, so I made that move," he said.
Kat moved to Jacksonville, and on her birthday in 2011 he popped the question.
Greg waited until she got into the shower and then spread flowers on the bed around the ring. He wrote "Will you marry me?" with glow-in-the-dark material on the bedroom wall and covered it with a quilt. When Kat stepped out of the shower, she read the message "I love you" with an arrow written on the steamy bathroom mirror, and in the bedroom Greg pulled down the quilt to reveal his question.
"It was a total surprise," Kat said. "It was nice."
Planning a wedding they'd both love seemed to be out of their reach, since both were in treatment and in school, not earning money the way their peers were.
They'd both heard about the Bay Pines VA Hospital and decided to relocate to Seminole in 2014, utilizing help from the veteran service program Operation Homefront.
It was after moving here that Kat heard about Mission: I Do, a contest to pay for the dream wedding of a veteran. On a whim, she applied and found out in the fall that she and Greg would be one of the winning couples.
"They picked the date and the location and all that," Kat said. "I was very involved in the planning, but they offered us a lot of options."
The wedding was completely funded through the contest, leaving the Edwardses the money they'd been saving to take a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, for their honeymoon next month.
All the choices they made led them here, and Greg is confident that Kat's compass will point them to a bright future together.
"She's a person that knows what she wants and is very demanding," Greg said. "She is very, very intelligent, driven and a great cook. She's a person that loves her country and has done for her country."