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Soldier gets married in middle of tank training

May. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Capt. Jose Serrano married the couple out in the field as Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment conducted live-fire exercises April 27.
Capt. Jose Serrano married the couple out in the field as Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment conducted live-fire exercises April 27. (Courtesy of Jenah Wieczorek)
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1st Sgt. Riley Flaherty and his wife, Kelly, after they were married during a tank gunnery exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. (Courtesy of Jenah Wieczorek)
Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment take video and photograph the wedding as tanks fire nearby. (Courtesy of Jenah Wieczorek)

When it appeared a first sergeant and his fiancée would have to call off their wedding because of a change to his unit’s training schedule, love found a way.

Well, love and Delta Company. And some tanks.

First Sgt. Riley Flaherty met the future Kelly Flaherty while they were high schoolers in central Ohio. He joined the Army, she stayed near home and became a firefighter. They reconnected about two decades later — first came a long-distance romance, then both of them moved to Fort Hood, Texas, in October.

They decided a small wedding would be best, with a deployment looming. They settled on an April 27 ceremony — her family had planned a visit that weekend — outside the 1st Cavalry Division Museum. Two weeks before the wedding, the couple learned the schedule for gunnery exercises had shifted, overlapping with their big day.

Riley Flaherty would be with his unit well into May. Wedded bliss would have to wait.

“Then the colonel suggested, ‘Why don’t we try to do this on the gunnery?’ ” Kelly Flaherty said of Lt. Col. Esli Pitts, commander of 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. “He thought it would be kind of cool and different. Nobody’s done it before.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Ricardo Luera, 3-8’s top noncommissioned officer, also lent his blessing. But as one might expect, there were a few hurdles to clear before performing a wedding next to a live-fire tank exercise, even with the support of leadership.

Chief among them was chaplain-wrangling. The couple had trouble finding anyone willing to officiate because they hadn’t undergone any premarital counseling.

“I was ready to get my dad ordained online,” Kelly Flaherty said.

That wouldn’t be necessary: With about 48 hours to spare, Capt. Jason Wieczorek, Delta Company’s commander, found Capt. Jose Serrano to perform the ceremony. Wieczorek drove Serrano to the on-range wedding site himself, said Jenah Wieczorek, head of the unit’s family readiness group, in an email describing the couple’s path to the makeshift altar.

Cupcakes were ordered — red and white, battalion colors — and a few hasty flower arrangements came together the morning of the event. The bride and her family were whisked to the range, everyone attempting to process just what was happening.

“My dad was like a kid in a candy store, out there with the tanks,” Kelly Flaherty said. “Both brother and dad had their cavalry hats on. Even mom was all smiles. Everybody was in awe.”

As well-wishing soldiers snapped pictures, Serrano coaxed a karaoke machine into broadcasting above the din of tanks in mid-exercise.

“It wasn’t cover-your-ears loud, but it was that rumble that shook your body and the earth,” Kelly Flaherty said.

The groom asked permission to remove his safety gloves to perform the ring exchange. Soldiers cheered from tanks and watch towers.

“I just kept saying, ‘This is so amazing,’ ” the bride said. “The gunfire would go off, and I would giggle a little bit.”

The exercises continued. The honeymoon — which could take the form of a visit to Ohio for a slightly more traditional celebration — would have to wait. But the official welcome into the Army family was a memorable one.

Even the 1st Cavalry Division’s Twitter page got in on the festivities, posting a photo from the ceremony with the tag line “Something old, something new, something borrowed and something BOOM.”

“It was better than anything I could have imagined,” Kelly Flaherty said. “I don’t think most brides would’ve been OK with their day being shattered, but we just made the best of it.

“There’s no ‘bridezilla’ in me. If anyone wants to know how to do a wedding under $300, call me.”

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