Soldier returns with a surprise

Monday, February 2, 2004

Patriotic Proposal: 'She turned white and I thought she was going to faint'

It's a scene right out of Hollywood - a gallant soldier boy returns after a long stint overseas, and surprises the pretty girl he left behind with a marriage proposal and a ring - and everyone lives happily ever after.

The players are Travis Flink and Vicki Hoefling. The newly engaged couple is still walking on cloud nine - where the air is much warmer.

Travis, son of Anna Mae and Scott Robbins, Rembrandt, and Bill Flink, and a 2001 graduate of Alta High School, has been a member of the168th National Guard Division, attached to the 133th Division out of Denison for the past two years. He and Vicki, daughter of Pat and Ann Hoefling, Odebolt, have been dating for two years as well.

Travis' division was called up for deployment May 12. The troops left July 23 for a peace-keeping mission in Egypt.

Technology allowed for the young couple to keep in contact. There were many emails and their cell phone conversations were so clear that it seemed as though they were next door from each other rather than thousands of miles apart.

Travis made a point of calling at the same time everyday; there was only one day that she did not receive a call from him. She tried not to think the worst. She found out later he was in a hospital suffering from heat exhaustion after a grueling march.

Though the couple had talked about becoming engaged when he returned from his deployment, absence does make the heart grow fonder and Travis couldn't wait.

He knew that when the troops returned that there would be a ceremony for them at their home armory. He asked his higher ranking officer if he would approve if Travis proposed to Vicki at that ceremony.

The officer thought it was a grand idea.

With clearance from above, Travis continued on with his romantic plans.

Vicki had once told Travis that her father would have to give his approval when she married. While a sit-down with the parents wasn't possible in his circumstances, Travis called Vicki's parents several months ago, and asked for their permission to marry their daughter. Travis got a little nervous, he said, when there was a long silence on the other end.

Finally, her father said, "I'd love for you to be my son-in-law."

He told Vicki's parents about the surprise he was working on and asked them to keep it from her.

For three and a half months the planning has gone on and for three and a half months it seems almost everyone has known - except for Vicki.

Travis began engagement ring shopping over the internet. He checked out many, many rings available at many stores and he finally settled on a beauty from Zales. He made arrangements with his mom to pick up the ring in Des Moines.

All of the planning and the anticipation to carry out the plans helped the time in Egypt go faster.

The young soldier said the temperatures there ranged from 90 to 120 degrees. The American troops weren't liked, and there was a great deal of terrorism going on, but Travis said he wasn't scared while there serving as a peace keeper. One of the worst part of the mission, he said, was being called on to clean up the Red Sea shores of the body parts that floated in from a plane crash that claimed many French and Egyptian lives. "It's something you don't want to see," he said.

The troops arrived back in Colorado Jan. 21 for shots and demobilization. It was a near shock to their systems when they encountered the cold winter air. They left Colorado by bus on Tuesday.

As the bus came closer to Denison, the anticipation grew. Travis could hardly wait to see the reaction of his girl when he popped the question. And then the vehicle broke down in North Platte, NE.

"I was so frustrated," Travis said. "There was no heat in the bus and we were all freezing; all we had on was our desert uniforms."

The 39 soldiers finally arrived at the armory and were welcomed by family and friends. On the sly, Anna Mae handed the ring she'd picked up for Travis to the captain and he secretly passed it on to Travis.

Vicki was seated in a special spot and was under the assumption that she was going to pin a medal on Travis during the ceremony.

The soldiers were in formation in front of everyone. A short talk was given and a few medals were presented and suddenly Travis left the formation to go kneel by Vicki.

She had no clue what was going on and was concerned that he was going to be in trouble for walking out of the formation before being dismissed.

A microphone was offered to Travis but he refused to use it; he was nervous enough the way it was.

He reached for Vicki's hand and said the words loud enough for their families and the supportive soldiers to hear.

"She turned white and I thought she was going to faint," he said. He slipped the ring on her finger.

Did she say yes right away? "I would have if I would have been able to speak," she said. After a few seconds when she realized what was happening, she accepted his proposal.

Travis commented, "I thought I was dreaming but after I put the ring on I calmed down. I warmed up real fast after I heard her say 'yes.'"

The applause filled the armory.

After the ceremony was all over and the soldiers were free to go with their families, Vicki knew why so many of her family members were in attendance. There were several of her aunts and uncles present and she realized that they were there to see the proposal.

How everyone knew about the proposal except for Vicki, she'll never know. But what a wonderful way to begin their lives together!

Travis commented that the National Guard troops are scheduled to leave for Afghanistan soon, but the government is making amends to all those who served in Egypt. (Travis is hoping they come through with their promise.)

"I'm glad I've been able to serve my country," he said. "I just hope I don't have another overseas deployment."

The happy 21-year-old couple hasn't set a definite wedding date.

Vicki is currently living in Ames and Travis is planning on moving there.

They're working on that happily ever after thing; and there's no doubt they'll get there.

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