Eight years ago on a beautiful July day, I boarded a plane to Los Angeles with a one-way ticket and a heart full of hope. Everyone I knew had called me crazy. My parents questioned whether I’d return home alive. But I just knew what I was doing was right.

I guess I should backtrack and explain how Keith and I met, for those of you who don’t already know. I was an editorial assistant at TIME For Kids magazine in New York City. It was an entry-level job; the first rung in the ladder I was planning to climb to the top of a magazine’s masthead. I absolutely loved the job, but since it was such a wonderful place to work and people rarely left, there wasn’t much opportunity for me to advance. I was starting to feel restless.

Then one afternoon, my editor rushed into my cubicle and asked if I could take a story off her hands. It was about anysoldier.com, an amazing website through which you can send care packages to “Any Soldier” stationed overseas. She was set to interview the founder of the site, Marty Horn, the next day, but things had come up and she was swamped. I told her of course I would write the story. I recall even making a joke along the lines of, “Maybe I’ll meet a hot soldier. Hardy-har.”

Anyway, I did the interview and wrote the story, then decided to send a care package myself. I went onto the site and ran my finger up and down the list of names in true eenie-meenie-minie-mo fashion. It landed on John Molamphy, First Sergeant of B Troop, 2-14 CAV of the 1st Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. He was the point of contact who would pass out packages to soldiers in his troop. I  sent him a package and then quickly forgot about it—until February 4, 2005, when I received an email with the subject line, “Thanks from Iraq.”

The email was from John Molamphy himself. He thanked me for sending the package and wrote a few paragraphs about his unit. I replied and told him about the story I had written. A week later, he responded with some more small talk and the following:

“I was going to tell you good things about my commander, Keith Walters, but he just told me I couldn’t go on a mission tomorrow, so I’m mad at him.  He thinks I need to stay safe or something.  I’m going to give you his email so you can tell him off for me.” And he left the email address.

Now, I must be incredibly dense, but—I kid you not—I had no idea that this was an attempt to hook me and Keith up. Growing up in New York City and knowing nothing about the military, I thought a troop commander must be some really old guy. I thought John was just trying to have fun with his commander. So I decided to play along by doing exactly what John requested—I sent Keith an email and told him off.

A few days later, Keith wrote back. He made a few jokes, then wrote:

“John says you live in New York? I went to college upstate and love NY, even though I’m a Los Angeleno to the core! Want to start a friendly coastal rivalry?”

And THAT is how this crazy adventure began. Keith and I started a written battle about the merits of Los Angeles vs. New York. No topic was off limits: Dodgers vs. Mets, Tupac vs. Biggie, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” vs. Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” We even took turns writing lyrics from songs about California or New York. (His lyrics were very Beach Boys heavy, as you can imagine.) Before long, the conversations moved to our lives, our interests, our thoughts and feelings. Only a month later, I declared to my uncle over dinner that I was going to marry this man. Something about the way I said it made him believe me.

Here is one of the first photos Keith ever sent me of himself in Iraq!

So there I was in July 2005, after five months of practically being chained to my computer, flying to LA to finally meet Keith. Of course, it was everything I’d expected it to be. Everyone always asks if there was a movie moment the first time we saw each other; if time stopped and we threw everything down and ran to each other with some cheesy love song playing in our minds. But there was no movie moment. It was better than a movie moment. Keith pulled up to the baggage claim at Long Beach Airport (which is outdoors), got out of the car, and handed me a rose. We gave each other a hug and a quick kiss that felt more familiar than they should have, considering we’d never even seen each other in person. Then I got in the passenger seat of his Acura TL (which we still own), said, “What is this crap you’re listening to?” and changed the radio station.

We drove directly to Jamba Juice in Santa Monica, got Orange Dream Machines, and drank them on a bench on the palisades, overlooking Santa Monica State Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. That night we went to dinner and a movie in Pasadena. The next day, we hit the road for an 18-hour drive to Washington State so that Keith could process out of Fort Lewis.

We spent the next eight days in Seattle, having a blast. We went to a Mariners game, ate at great restaurants, walked around, and just enjoyed each other’s company until I had to get back to New York for work. On the evening before I left, Keith asked me if I’d move to the San Francisco Bay Area with him, where he’d be attending grad school at Stanford University for the next two years before heading to West Point (his almer mater) to teach history. I said yes. I quit my job and moved in with Keith in Mountain View, California in January 2006. Nearly eight years later, here we are.

Us at Point Reyes
This photo was taken at Point Reyes the week after I moved to California to be with Keith. Look at how young we looked!

Needless to say, my life as an Army wife started out in a rather adventurous way, and the adventures have not stopped. I knew life would be a roller coaster, but I had no idea just how down the downs would be and how up the ups would be. Less than three weeks after our wedding and only a few days after we got back from our honeymoon, Keith moved to Norfolk, Virginia for nine months for an Army assignment. We had expected him to be at West Point for a third year, and I had recently started a job as a senior editor at Scholastic News, so I stayed in New York. We took turns visiting each other every other weekend.

The saber arch outside the West Point Cadet Chapel just after we got married, July 18, 2009

Then we moved to Colorado Springs in the summer of 2010, and I feel like we hardly saw each other for a while. Keith spent a lot of time training. He’d be in the field anywhere from a week to a month, over and over again. Even when he wasn’t in the field, he’d work incredibly long hours, sometimes not getting home until 8 or 9 pm. Two weeks after our twins were born in June 2011, Keith deployed to Afghanistan. Three months later, he was shot in a green on blue attack in which we lost two very good friends, and was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to recover.

Yes, it’s been a very, very long road. But here we are back in LA, where it all started for us. And I have to say—I feel 100 percent content and complete in all aspects of my life. I love Keith more than I did the day we met, and we have two incredible little boys.  I am doing work I love that allows me to spend a lot of time with Matt and Nate. Keith is enjoying his fellowship at the RAND Corporation. And—here’s the shocker—I love living in L.A. I mean, I really love it.

Yes, there are all of the obvious reasons I’m having a blast here—the amazing weather, the gorgeous beaches, the great food, etc. But what I love most are the possibilities. (That’s my favorite thing about New York, too.) I love waking up every day not knowing what might happen. When we go to our local beach, will we see a movie being filmed? Will we see dolphins and sea lions swimming only a few yards from shore? Will we see a real-live rescue taking place? We’ve seen all of these things.

On Tuesday evening, Keith and I found ourselves on the Sony Pictures Studios Lot, watching an advance screening of Captain Phillips for RAND employees and donors and their guests. This weekend, we are headed to SeaWorld San Diego with the boys. On Monday evening, before the Dodgers playoff game, Keith is being honored in a ceremony on the field of Dodger Stadium as the Veteran of the Game. They will show pictures of him on the big screen and the announcer will talk about his Army career.

I can’t believe all of the good things happening for us, and sometimes I wonder what we did to deserve it. But then I remember, we did earn it. Keith has three Purple Hearts. We’ve been through a lot of heartache and challenges. We were apart for the start of our dating life, apart for the start of our marriage, apart for the start of our journey as parents. Now we are together and having a blast.

Our family Torrance Beach
Our family at Torrance Beach on Labor Day 2013

I ask that you take two messages from this story. One is, take chances. Send the package. Write the email. Board the airplane. Don’t be afraid to take the bumpy, uncertain road in life. You never know where that road might lead you and where you might end up. Whoever knew this New York City girl would be relishing life in Los Angeles as the wife of an Army officer and the mother of twins? I sure didn’t—but I’m so glad it’s the life I’m living!

And the second message is: Don’t forget about all of the men and women in uniform who are still deployed overseas, and their families. Many of our friends have just deployed yet again, or are getting ready to deploy in the coming weeks. There are still so many people out there fighting overseas, and so many military families making sacrifices.

Thank you all for reading!!!

7 comments on “How It All Began”

  1. That is so lovely, Jen. Thanks for sharing the story. Here’s to lots more love, joy, and other good stuff for you, Keith, and your boys!

  2. What a beautiful story and a beautiful family! Thank you Keith for your service and thank you Jennifer for your sacrifices as an Army wife. I found out about Any Soldier when my son was in Kuwait with the Minnesota Army National Guard. I felt so bad to find out not all soldiers get packages from home or at least a card or letter. Thank you for telling your story!

  3. Great story! I just met Jim and Patti Russell and gave them a stitched memorial piece in honor of Drew. You can find a photo on his Memorial Facebook page.

  4. Such a beautiful story. Clearly, the Hand of God was directing everyone involved your meeting. A true “made in Heaven” love story. The best it yet to come. You have all this and Heaven too. ❤️️??

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