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02-17-06, 07:57 AM
Rules of Engagement
Marine returning from Iraq greeted with wedding proposal
Published Friday February 17 2006
The Beaufort Gazette

Amid the usual homecoming crowd of excited wives and flag-waving children, Lt. Joe Houser looked out of place at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on Thursday.

Wearing a dark suit and tie, he kept his eyes firmly on the incoming F/A-18 Hornets as he wandered silently among the crowd.

After a seven-month deployment, about 30 members of the Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332, the Moonlighters, were coming home from Al Asad, Iraq, and among them was Houser's girlfriend, Capt. Christine Vallely.

As the tearful joyous reunion played out across the tarmac, Houser walked slowly, watching as Vallely greeted her father, who had come down from Garden City, N.Y.

When it was Houser's turn, he got down on one knee, and the crowd erupted in applause as he asked Vallely to marry him.

She said yes.

"I was just very shocked," Vallely said, who was expecting a visit from her father and Houser, but not a proposal.

The pair met at the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated together in 2001.

Vallely went into the Marine Corps, while Houser opted for the Navy and is stationed in Norfolk, Va.

They were instant friends, but didn't begin dating until 2004, Vallely said.

It's a long distance relationship made even longer by frequent deployments by both Houser and Vallely. Maintenance and logistic delays nearly caused the couple to miss each other completely.

"I knew the longer I was delayed, the worse my chances were of seeing him," Vallely said.

The Moonlighters deployed to Iraq in July, and six jets and a tanker crew arrived home Thursday. The remaining jets and support crew will return over the next few days.

The couple will spend just a few days together before Houser goes back to Norfolk and prepares for a deployment to Australia and possibly Iraq.

"It's been a very emotional afternoon," Vallely said. "From coming home, to seeing everyone, to getting engaged all in one afternoon."


Megan Lovett/Gazette
Lt. Joe Houser, right, proposes to his girlfriend, Capt. Christine Vallely, moments after she arrived Thursday at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort from a seven-month deployment to Al Asad, Iraq, with the Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332, the Moonlighters. Vallely's father, Tom, center, records the proposal.