CAMP STRIKER, Iraq (Multi-National Force-Iraq, Nov. 26, 2007) - Thanksgiving marks the start of the official holiday season and it is a time when individuals stop to reflect on the things for which they are grateful.

For Soldiers deployed during the holidays, comrades in arms take the place of blood relatives and loved ones back home.

The Tumblings are one of several couples in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) who were able to spend the upcoming holiday season together.

Pvt. Imani Tumbling of Valdosta, Ga., and Pfc. Angelo Tumbling of Norfolk, Va., both assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. (AASLT), celebrated their first major holiday as a married couple here in a combat zone - their first anniversary, too.

Imani, 20, a supply specialist, and Angelo, 23, a fire support specialist, met when he arrived at his new unit in March.

"I wanted to join the Army for money for school, so I wasn't looking for anybody," Imani said. "I didn't even like him when I met him," she said with a scowl. "I wanted to get out of the Army, go to college and after I got out of college, that's when I saw myself getting married."

So, even though Angelo and Imani mapped their lives out one way, it seems fate had another plan. After a whirlwind courtship - less than four months - the two were married, Aug. 2, and departed Fort Campbell, Ky., for Iraq in late September.

"It seemed like we knew each other more than we did; we got close real fast," Angelo said. "I figured if I'm already with her every day and I'm going to be with her and do whatever I have to do to be with her, then why not be married'"

When they decided to make the big step, Imani said there was no fanfare - no candlelight dinner, no romantic music - nothing like that involved.

"He didn't even ask," she said with a laugh, looking at him from the corners of her eyes. "He didn't get down on one knee, he didn't say, 'Will you marry me'' He said, 'You're going to be my wife.'"

Angelo laughed at Imani's recollection of his proposal and said he knew she would say yes. Even though she tried to play hard to get, Imani said she knew that she wanted to marry him.

Both say they never thought they would make the leap to marriage this soon, but regard it as an unexpected blessing. "Everybody says we got married too fast," Angelo said. "But we're going to shock the world."

The two harbor no illusions that their marriage will be free of obstacles, but they seem determined to make it work.

They have minor disagreements and expect to experience the same bumps in the road as other couples do during the first months or years of marriage. Their road just happens to be in south Baghdad.

The newlyweds say they feel fortunate to be together during what has been the breaking point of some marriages; but the deployment has turned out to be a benefit.

While it is difficult at times not having family and friends readily accessible to discuss a problem, Imani said the distance from potential outside influences is making them stronger as a couple.

"I think it's good because we can't talk to everybody else about our problems and he can't jump in the car and leave," she explained. "We have to sit here and deal with it versus going and running to tell somebody else."

The Tumblings do not claim to have all the answers for the perfect marriage. They just take things one day at a time and hope that this deployment will continue to strengthen what they already have.

Imani wants to finish her three-year commitment and go to school, while Angelo plans to re-enlist for six years while he's here.

The couple is planning a big wedding when they get back to the States, since they only had a small ceremony the first time they said, "I do." They also plan to have children, but that's years down the line when Imani's finished school and the couple has had time to enjoy each other alone.

So this Thanksgiving, they're just thankful to have each other and be able to spend this deployment together when so many other couples have to be apart.