LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- With his wedding five minutes away, Army Pvt. Sam Minton has a lot on his mind. The bride hasn't shown up yet. She's eight weeks pregnant. And he's shipping out in four hours.
''Don't worry, she'll be here,'' says Jake Van Winkle, Minton's best friend, as the two sit anxiously in the Chapel of the Lakes on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
With the threat of war in Iraq looming, many military couples are making a mad dash to the altar. Some want the extra insurance and benefits granted to spouses, while others simply want added emotional reassurance before their loved ones head off for a distant land.
That's what happened to Minton and his fiancee, Lindsay Daniels, 18. The two Army privates met at a party last year, but split up when Daniels was sent to Fort Lee in Virginia for training. They reunited in November when they found themselves stationed in the same unit at Fort Lewis.
''She treats me like I want to be treated -- we love each other so much,'' said Minton, 20, who may be sent to the Middle East once he completes his deployment training in a few months.
Similar stories are playing out across the country.
''Every time we turn around we hear of another wedding that's taken place,'' said Denise Varner, spokes-person for the California National Guard.
In Georgia, 1st Lt. Justin McCormick, 27, and 2nd Lt. Lindsey Dennison, 22, tied the knot in January before McCormick left Fort Stewart for Kuwait as part of his division's deployment.
McCormick and Dennison have known each other for five years and dated for three. They already were engaged and had a summer wedding planned, but had to move it way up. In a week they found a dress, ordered flowers, invited relatives, found a chaplain and said, ''I do.''
''It was important for me to be married before I deployed off to Kuwait,'' McCormick told the Savannah Morning News. ''It makes me a whole person.''
In Washington state, judges, chaplains and county auditors say they've seen a recent increase in military weddings.
''If nothing else, the conflict in the Middle East has been good for the institution of marriage,'' said Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper.
In Pierce County, there's been a 20 to 30 percent increase in marriage license requests over the past month or so -- mostly from military couples, said Carol Fenton, a clerk with the county's auditor department.
Chapels on the state's military bases also have been busy.
''We're looking at one almost every weekend and it used to be once every two months,'' said Janelle Howe, who works in the chapel at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
Recently, the chaplain at the Chapel of the Lakes presided over a midnight wedding of a couple who were set to deploy at 5 a.m.
''They were all hugging and kissing and crying and the bride said, 'What are we gonna do from now until 5?''' said Chic Jackson-King. ''And I said, 'Honey, you just got married, you're on your honeymoon -- I'm sure you'll find something!'''
Back in the Lakewood chapel, the bride has finally arrived after fighting through a traffic jam.
Her mother, Debbie Daniels, helps her adjust her wedding gown while friends Shawna Lee and Amber Dipaolo -- whose fiances also are stationed at Fort Lewis -- try to calm the jittery bride's nerves.
''We're so proud of them that they're protecting our country right now,'' Debbie Daniels said with tears in her eyes. ''We're gonna give them a honeymoon when they come back.''
Planning a wedding in five days was no small feat. Minton found out on a Saturday he was being deployed the following weekend.
On Sunday, he asked Daniels' mother for permission to marry her youngest daughter, and later took Daniels to the top of the Space Needle to propose. Then it was a race to nab a marriage license, which in Washington carries a three-day waiting period.
After training at Fort Irwin in California for six weeks, Minton will head to Fort Polk in Louisiana for more training. The future is uncertain, but Daniels said frequent phone calls and care packages will help keep them connected.
Up at the altar, the Minton and Daniels stare into each other's eyes and clasp hands, as the bride's mother holds up a cellphone so her other daughter, Angiee, can listen to the ceremony from her Las Vegas home. The frenzied week of preparation now seems a distant memory.
''Today as you join yourselves in marriage, there's a vast and unknown future stretching out before you,'' says Jackson-King. ''But love will show you the way to happiness.''
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