By their third date, Charles Wise knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with then Pfc. Vanessa Pesina. Less than a year later, they were married.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Vanessa Wise, an intelligence analyst assigned to the 2d Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany, met Charles Wise, a maintenance technician for Valiant, in high school in their hometown of Bakersfield, Ca. They had their first date the day before Vanessa departed for basic training, but Charles remained patient, writing letters to Vanessa throughout her time away.
Following basic training, Vanessa was stationed in South Korea - furthering the distance and time between them.
After about a year and a half apart, things began to work in their favor, and Vanessa received orders for Fort Irwin, Ca., just two hours away from their hometown. It was not long before they made plans for their second date.
"I told Charles that if I made [sergeant] and I got Germany, that I would stay in the Army for at least another term," explained Vanessa.
It was in that moment that Charles knew he did not want her to leave again, not without him this time. After their third date, Charles explained to Vanessa that he was dating for marriage.
"I asked her if I could call her my girlfriend yet," shared Charles. "Vanessa responded with, 'Do you want me to be your girlfriend?' and I said, 'Honestly, no, I'm not looking for a girlfriend. I'm looking for my wife.' And then, she said nothing."
Although the minutes of her silence were nerve wracking for Charles, they were married eight months later.
"He proposed to me dramatically," said Vanessa. "It was a full day of fake proposals. He fake proposed to me four times. Once in a restaurant filled with people, and then, [he] just said he was tying his shoe."
When it was time for the real thing, Charles left nothing to chance. He had Vanessa "kidnapped" from the park where they had their second date. She was blindfolded, driven around the city for an hour and safely returned back to the park.
"Charles had set up in an amphitheater," said Vanessa. "200 candles and a photographer, and they handed me an elephant that was in an astronaut costume because I told him if he ever proposed, it had to be in space with elephants."
While her real engagement ring that Charles designed was delayed in arriving, he was not going to allow circumstance to delay his grand plan.
"He gave me one from an arcade," shared Vanessa.
A concept not unfamiliar to many military families, Vanessa and Charles were paper married a few weeks later with a wedding planned for the fall.
However, it was not all smooth sailing from there.
The day before their wedding, an unexpected natural disaster made it impossible to get to their wedding venue. They rescheduled their wedding to the backyard of a friend and spent the remainder of the day calling guests, the caterer and vendors to notify them of the change.
"There was a mudslide in the mountain town we were supposed to get married in," said Charles. "Half of our guests couldn't come to our wedding."
Regardless of the unforeseen circumstances, the backyard wedding was everything they had dreamed.
It was not long before plans for a family became a part of their reality.
"Since we got married we wanted kids," shared Vanessa. "After years of trying, we saw five doctors, and I went on a bunch of medication. We did everything the Army would cover; [we] saw all of the specialists."
After a few cycles of treatments, the Wise's conceived. However, their dreams of a family were not quite made a reality, and Vanessa miscarried. At this point, they exhausted all of their options covered by their insurance through the U.S. Army.
It was time to find another way.
"We decided to go to an in vitro fertilization specialist in Czech because [IVF] is covered by insurance in the Czech Republic so their success rates are extremely high," said Vanessa. "Everything we did was out of pocket."
The couple sought guidance from Vanessa's primary care provider before undergoing multiple tests as part of the initial assessment and initiating a fertility treatment plan with the Czech clinic. However, it turns out that they never needed the IVF specialist after all.
"While we were waiting for the go ahead to start the first cycle of medication, we got our positive pregnancy test," said Charles. "God was answering our prayers of having a child when we were pursuing the most extreme alternative."
"We somehow conceived naturally after over three years of trying," added Vanessa.
Vanessa is due to give birth to their daughter in July.
Being a military couple is not without its unique challenges. With Vanessa being gone for training exercises, schools and duty, nurturing their relationship takes effort.
"It is very hard," said Vanessa. "Take advantage of all of the services that are offered - all of the marriage retreats and counseling from the chaplains and the [military family life counselors]. We've done all of it."
"It's a really stressful environment, and it's a big challenge," added Charles. "Utilize the tools they have to help with that."
In all of the excitement of expecting their first child, they have not forgotten Valentine's Day.
"I'm sure Charles will make me dinner, he usually does cook me a steak or something," shared Vanessa.