Coleen Klender – Wedding Planning from Iraq

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Coleen Klender in Iraq

Coleen is a nurse in the United States Army with a unique story. While serving in Iraq–away from both her home and her fiance–she is planning her wedding and making her own artistic wedding invitations. Coleen took part of her day off to answer our questions about her invitations and the general challenges facing her in Baghdad. Our interview with Coleen starts here

At least two big things are going on in your life right now. First, you’re planning for your wedding. Second, you’re in Iraq. Tell me about the invitations you’re making and how you happen to be in Iraq.

Yes, I am planning my wedding…from Iraq! How did that happen? Well, it wasn’t planned to be this way, but here is the story of how that came to be. I am an active duty Army Nurse, and at home, I am currently stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C., where I am a floor nurse in the Pediatrics Ward. Last May, I was tasked to join the 14th Combat Support Hospital from Fort Benning, GA for a 1 year deployment to Iraq, and I was given 3 weeks notice that I was going. I was filling a spot for someone else who couldn’t go, so talk about a major life upheaval. Yes, that is the Army–be ready to move at a moments notice! But it is never easy and you don’t always have to be happy about it.

Coleen Klender's original wedding invitations

Here in Iraq, our mission is Detainee Operations, which essentially means I work at a prison. When I first arrived here, I worked in the actual hospital building taking care of detainee in-patients, but eventually transitioned to the Wire Med-Pass team where we administer medications to detainees. My now-fiance Jeremy and I were Med-Pass partners, so I had the best of both worlds–another great nurse to work with but who also happened to be my best friend. Jeremy left to go home in February, and I have to stay here until Mid-June. It is always rough when you have to be so far apart from someone you love, albeit family, friends, or the one you love the most. I think we both knew that we would someday get married, and being apart made us realize how much being together was what we wanted. And as events would have it, Jeremy called me in March and asked me to marry him. So, the planning had to start 7,470 miles from home! But so far, it hasn’t been too bad. When most people find out I am calling from Iraq and he is home, they have been very helpful and accommodating. I want our day to be as special as I can make it. When I get home, there will only be 23 days until our wedding day so I have to do as much as I can all the way from Iraq.

Fiance Jeremy in Iraq

In your last e-mail to me, you wrote something that I loved

I ‘had’ to make my own invitations. It’s a one time deal for me, and I wanted them to be all about us, not pre-made!

Tell me more about your invitations and what you’re doing to make sure they’re all your own. How are you using the Vinum red Vice Versa card stock that you purchased from us?

I asked Jeremy after we hammered out the beginnings of our wedding details if he minded if I made our invitations. My college degree is Art/Illustration and I am always a fan of having something unique and different vs. something that you can buy pre-made. Also, Jeremy has children, and from the beginning, it has been important to me to build a bridge to them, and make them feel a part of what Jeremy and I are doing versus something that just happens to them that they have no say in. So, as I created our card, I designed a cartoon drawing of all of us (wearing what we will be wearing on the wedding day), to include all of us, to make our invitations fun & whimsical, and to show that a lot of care and thought went into what we want to share with our guests. I want people to know when they get their invitation that a lot of love is in that card by how it is made; that there are some things in this world that can truly last forever. True love and marrying your best friend is what our invitation is about.

Coleen Klender's handmade wedding invitations

As I designed the card, I knew I wanted tiny interlocking hearts as the closure, but knew that 8 1/2 x 11 card stock wouldn’t work as I needed more length. And I was having trouble finding what I wanted in 8 1/2 x 14 card stock. Then, I found LCI Paper. (Thank Google and whatever random combination of words I typed in to get to you all!) As corny as this will sound, our colors are red, white and navy blue (but what else would anyone expect from two soldiers!), so I was looking for red card stock as my base. The Vice Versa Vinum was what I picked, and I was excited about the slight texture it had, too! The best part was the number of choices of colors there are in the 8 1/2 x 14 size. I chose the Vinum red, hoping it would be what I wanted (another leap of faith from Iraq!). So the Vinum makes up the actual card. To tie it all in, the leftover cutouts are used as accents on the RSVP card, the letter cutouts on the front of the card, and on the return and main envelopes.

Were you worried about ordering card stock for your invitations over the internet instead of seeing the paper in person?

Honestly, yes. When I ordered it, I was a little apprehensive to spend a good amount of money on something that, sight-unseen, might not be exactly what I had pictured in my mind. But my choices were very limited, so I had to take the chance and know that if it wasn’t what I thought, I would have to make it work. There were time constraints and budget constraints, so I crossed my fingers that my 1984 laptop was giving me a good representation of color, and ordered the paper! It has been of the adjustments that you have to make over here, to trust in what a company is representing on a computer screen to get what you want, whether it is paper or any other thing we need. To my delight, when it arrived, the paper is the *perfect* color I would have wanted. It is a rich red, not too bright, and definitely not a washed out red. The texture adds another element without being too bold, and the paper folds beautifully, for me anyway. It doesn’t split apart at the creases, and for homemade cards, lends a nice professional look. I am very, very happy with how the paper worked out in my invitations.

Tell me about some of challenges of everyday life you’re experiencing in Iraq. In your e-mail, you mentioned that simple things like light bulbs are sometimes not available and you have to order them online. Tell me about ordering from companies and having your items ship to a Military Post Office. How is that experience?

Well, being deployed isn’t just about being far from home and the ones you love, it’s also about adjusting to not having the conveniences you are used to. When I first arrived here, I was very active in Morale and Welfare. I would decorate and draw pictures for people’s birthdays and promotions, etc. It is what I love to do. But how can you be creative without the proper supplies? So when people would ask me what I wanted in my care packages, I would ask for construction paper, glue sticks, markers, foam tape–funny things to ask for in a war zone! When I asked for crayons and my mom sent me the 96 crayon caddy, I felt like the cool kid in school! It’s funny now how little things like that are what get you excited and put a smile on your face! But it truly brought my purpose of art in my life full circle–something as simple as a crayon drawing for someone, and the happiness they felt being the receiver of it.

Coleen Klender in uniform

We rely very heavily on internet shopping to get the things we need. I have tried not to bug my family too much with the things I want/need over here and try to get these things online first before asking them of their time/money. And yes, we have not had light bulbs at our PX [Post Exchange] in over 6 weeks. So when my little 40 watt finally burns out, I am either out of luck, or I have to hope they get them in soon! One of the challenges, however, of trying to get the things you want/need, is that a lot of companies don’t ship to APO [Army Post Office]/FPO [Fleet Post Office] locations. In the past, I understand shipping to these locations wasn’t as reliable, so I’m sure there were financial risks. But shipping here is very reliable (although sometimes slower). I have ordered many, many times from the internet and have yet to have a package not make it. Some come lightning fast: Once I ordered a package from a craft store in Idaho, and I had it in my hands 5 days later! Though on the norm, it takes about 2 weeks. And for the companies that won’t ship here, I would have to have it sent to one of my family members, then they would re-send it to me here. That adds up in postage costs and also knowing it will take longer to get here. I guess I would just want companies to know that it doesn’t cost more, as APO/FPO shipping is like shipping to a domestic USA address, but it just takes a little more time to prepare as you do have to have a customs form attached to the box. And for all of us over here, paying for mandatory insurance is still much less than paying for shipping to a family member then paying to have it shipped again. But you do what you have to do when there are things you really need. And I know people will think it is funny that I *need* red cardstock in a war zone! As things have evolved here, I think it is a blessing that I am in Iraq and I have the time/ability to plan or even think about my upcoming wedding date. A few years ago, that would not be the case and I am grateful that things have come a long way from what it used to be here.

When is your wedding and where are you getting married?

Jeremy and I are getting married on July 24, 2010 on South Padre Island, TX. Jeremy is stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, and that is where we will reside together after I leave my station in D.C. in late August. We are having an evening beachside ceremony with our family and friends, and we are both very excited and cannot wait for that day to be here. But I think I will be almost as happy when I finally see him again when I get home to Texas on July 1st. I miss my best friend and love of my life!

SPC Klender, Coleen
14th Combat Support Hospital, Baghdad, Iraq

Thanks to Coleen, first and most importantly, for her service to her country, and second, for taking the time to write to us about her experience. We love her hand-drawn invitations and we’re happy that she chose to participate and share her design with our blog readers. After we received Coleen’s invitation in the mail, we talked to her again. Read more about the invitation in the article, Making Your Wedding Invitations While Deployed In Iraq.

If you’d like to comment about what you’ve read, please do! And by all means, if you’ve made your own invitations or other creative project with items you’ve purchased from LCI Paper, please participate in our Share Your Creativity program.

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Joshua Birch

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  1. carolyn mckaughan says:

    Awesome article. Love the cards, thanks for being such an awesome person and so good to my son and grandchildren. Hope god blesses you all with a long and happy life together.

  2. noreen says:

    I was so happy , when I found this site, your story was a little bit same with me and my boyfriend. We are both a hundred’s of miles away now, we still hold on and wishing we will see each other soon to get married soon. I hope our story will end like yours. Your story gave me so much hope and makes me stronger even though we are not together now. I hope everything will be good for us. You are my inspiration. By the way I am a filipina lady from philippines and my boyfriend is an iraqi national. Regards and thanks a lot.

  3. Linda (Burt) Robinson says:

    Though it is two years later I am glad that I got the chance to read such a beautiful article about my friend, Coleen Klender. She is truly blessed with hands to draw out anything. She sent me a care package when I was away in school, she designed my box. Believe it or not, I still have the box 22 years later. I am grateful for her artwork and I am so glad that she got the opportunity to make her own wedding invitations she would not have had it any other way. Thanks to LCI paper for making her dream come true.