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For Captains William Marquez and Maria Lopez, love isn’t their battlefield, it’s their strength.
Since August 2010, both Marquez, 36, and Lopez, 37, have served and shared a room together at Joint Base Balad in Southern Iraq. Behind the security fence line, barbed wire and expanses of desert sand, the newly married couple answers the call of duty, all while balancing life as husband and wife.
“It's a little difficult because the place is so small. You have to maintain professionalism," said Capt. Lopez. "There is no holding hands, kissing or hugging, so we have to be a little standoffish with each other but we make do.”
Marquez, a fourth generation Mexican American, and Lopez, a second generation Mexican American, first locked eyes in 2003 at Officer Candidate School, a grueling 18 month training program.
"Capt. Lopez had always been someone who stuck out in her class as a woman who proved to have great leadership skills and presence," Marquez said.
He particularly remembered one moment when Capt. Lopez was given the duty of checking everyone's lockers and drawers to see that every soldier was “dress right dress”—ie, that they had their clothes neat and in complete order.
“There was a couple of times where she had to inspect my wall locker and she wasn’t too pleased,” Marquez joked.
After Officer Candidate School, the two kept in touch and would go out to lunch and have phone conversations. One day, Capt. Lopez made the first move.
"I just asked for his phone number and I made an excuse that I needed him to help me with a lease appointment," Lopez said. "I think I liked him more than he liked me."
Both of them were about to be deployed for the first time and the stress was increasing. Would they ever see each other again? Was it the end of the possibility of something greater?
Coincidentally, they were deployed together from 2006 to 2007. Marquez served in Iraq and Maria served in Iraq and Kuwait. Their friendship grew as they served through the the hardship of their first deployment.
“I would vent to him, and it wasn’t until the end of the deployment where we started to wonder where this was going. Is this it? Are we not going to talk anymore?”said Lopez. “It did not take him too long to call when we got home.”
Their romance reached a full bloom once they returned to California in August 2008. They were married on May, 31st, 2009.
Three months later, in August, Marquez was deployed to Baghdad. Maria would be deployed to Balad, Iraq, nearly a year later, in June of 2010. In an ultimate show of love, Marquez asked to extend his deployment another year so that he could serve with his wife in Balad. The Army agreed, and the couple is scheduled to come home in March.
Today, Capt. Marquez is a Public Affairs Officer for the103rd command strategic command, responsible for making sure the whole world knows the hard work and incredible stories coming out of his unit. Capt. Lopez works as a liaison ensuring there is a constant communication flow between higher command and the 103rd.
For these soldiers, the American dream is alive and well in a bond forged in America and tested in Iraq.
“I deeply love Maria. That alone is a dream in some sense,” Marquez said. “Just falling in love and living a happy life and working together to make our lives what we want them to be. Our country allows us to do that and rewards peoples' hard work and thoughtfulness for others.”
As for the couples' Valentine's Day evening? They'll choose a romantic dinner and a movie.
"We try to save our favorite dish from the cafeteria, the Italian shrimp antipasto, as a treat once a week," Lopez said. "Then we'll go back to the room and watch some Dexter."