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News | Oct. 20, 2015

Sports bring Air Force couple together, keep them apart

By Gary Sheftick U.S. Armed Forces Sports

MUNGYEONG, South Korea -- Not even at the Military World Games could Air Force couple 1st. Lt. John Melcher and his wife 2nd Lt. Annette Eichenberger Melcher be stationed together.

At home, John serves with the 94th Intelligence Squadron at Fort Meade, Maryland, and Annette is stationed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In Korea they were assigned to separate athlete villages almost an hour's drive apart -- Annette at Geosan with the U.S. Armed Forces track and field team while John was sent to MunGyeong with the men's soccer team.

"I told the guys on the team, every time we think we're going to be together somewhere, even 6,000 miles from home, something puts us 45 minutes apart, just far enough apart that we can't see each other," John said.

The two have been married for about 15 months. Their wedding was just a few weeks after Annette graduated from the academy in 2014, but they were dating steady since John graduated in 2012.

"It's been tough, because we've been apart the entire time we've been together," Annette said, but added "in the end, it's made us stronger."

The two met at a breakfast table in the academy's Mitchell Hall. They were assigned to the same squadron, so they sat at the same table. He was a soccer captain and she was a track and field captain.

Sports brought them together, but now it keeps them apart.

Annette is in the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, attempting to qualify for the 800-meter run in the Olympics. When she's not training in Colorado Springs, she's on the road competing nationally and overseas.

Depending on the competition schedule, the couple sometimes doesn't get to see each other for two or three months at a time. But despite the distance, John tries to see Annette run as much as possible.

"He is my biggest supporter, next to my mom," Annette said.

"I love to see her run," John said, but added that he gets a bad case of the nerves beforehand. "I get physically ill before she runs."

He doesn't get nervous before he plays soccer. In fact, 15 minutes before the USA vs Qatar soccer match last week, John said he was "dancing and carrying on in the locker room," practicing the Soldier Dance made popular by South Korean hosts of the Military World Games.

"But whenever I watch Annette run, it is probably the most gut-wrenching thing I've ever had to endure. He clarified that once the gun goes off and the runners are off, everything's fine.

Had he not made the team to be in South Korea for the Conseil International du Sport Militaire, or CISM World Games, he said that he would have found a way to get there somehow to watch Annette run.

Not that John isn't busy himself at Fort Meade. When he's not at work, he's practicing soccer and coaching for the Catonsville Football Club that he helped found. Many nights after work, he said players are practicing from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Then up at 5 a.m. the next morning to go to work.

"It's hard to find a balance sometimes," John said. "It wasn't until a couple of months ago that we found out how to make it work." Instead of stepping away from the relationship, John says they're both committed to staying in touch and working through it.

"When I'm at my down, he picks me up," Annette said, "that's what life is all about."