If there were a Purple Heart for patience, Tech. Sgt. Corey Myers would have one pinned to his uniform.
Nine months he waited for an opportunity to meet Staff Sgt. Karina Newton, even though he saw her at the gym nearly every day.
Five months after they began dating, she left Myers for an ex-boyfriend. He would be stationed in six nations before he saw her again. He would wait seven years to marry her.
Then, after four days of married life, Myers returned to duty at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
The newlyweds don't know how long they'll be apart, but both believe their love will withstand the wait.
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Tampa was Myers' fourth Air Force post when he arrived at MacDill Air Force Base in November 1999 as an information manager. His daily routine took him from his computer station to the base fitness center where he first saw Newton.
He was sure she could hear his heart pounding as she pounded the elliptical trainer. Surely she saw him mesmerized as he watched her daily workout.
As it turned out, Newton never noticed him noticing her. Months passed, but Myers never interrupted her concentration.
"It wasn't gym etiquette,'' he said.
When he did bump into her at the Surf's Edge Enlisted Club, he was too awestruck to speak.
He swore to never let that happen again.
Myers waited half a year for the next opportunity, in August 2000, at Platforms nightclub in Ybor City. That time he made a beeline for her on the dance floor, introducing himself as a fellow airman and gym rat.
"It freaked me out a little,'' Newton said, "It wasn't your usual pickup line, so I asked to see his military ID.''
Myers steered her to the lounge, overjoyed that his patience paid off.
"I didn't want the night to ever end,'' he said.
He learned Newton, 30, was born in El Salvador, grew up in Texas and enlisted in 1998. MacDill was her first post, working in accounting in the 6th Comptroller Squadron and living in a base dorm.
Myers, 31, is an Army brat who lived in Germany and three states before enlisting right out of high school.
He sensed hesitation when she gave him her phone number. She and her boyfriend had just broken up. She wasn't ready to rebound.
Still, when he called the next day, Newton invited him to a barbecue. She thought he was "sweet, gentle and grounded.''
He nurtured the budding friendship, patiently, on her terms.
"I was always running,'' she said, between work, classes at Hillsborough Community College and a second job at Barnes & Noble. And, of course, the gym.
Myers, who lived in St. Petersburg, had a second job, too, as a credit analyst in Largo. Several times a week he'd drive to Tampa after work to surprise her with flowers, candy and cards. One evening she looked up to see him in her checkout line. On his shirt he had pinned a note: Karina is No. 1.
"I didn't know I was a romantic person,'' Myers said. He gave her a Boyz II Men CD because of a particular song, Thank You in Advance, about a guy who meets a girl and instantly knew she was the one for him. In the song, she doesn't even know his name yet, but he thanks her in advance for the marriage, two kids, and beautiful life she's going to share with him.
"This is exactly how I felt about Karina,'' he said.
All the while, her ex-boyfriend hovered on the edge. He wanted a second chance. In January 2001, Newton made her decision.
"I told Corey I was not a quitter,'' she said. She was going to give the old relationship her full effort.
Ever the gentleman, Myers wished her the best. He told his mother he would never find another Karina, and volunteered to go to Islamabad, Pakistan, to work at the U.S. Embassy.
Newton married a few months later, in May 2001.
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Myers continued in his military career.
By 2003 he was stationed in Korea and 2004 in Japan. Occasionally he e-mailed Newton, but never got a reply. It was impossible not to compare the women he dated to Newton, he said. "I would constantly check availability of assignments at MacDill.''
He was stationed in Qatar in December 2004, when she finally replied to an e-mail. (The first she ever received, she says.)
"I just wrote back that I was fine; no other details,'' she recalled.
She didn't mention her unhappy marriage or that she'd had two daughters, Nia, now 4, and Nina, now 2.
Posted back to Japan again, Myers wrote again in July 2005, to wish Newton a happy birthday.
Her reply sent him to the moon: She was getting a divorce.
"From that day on, we e-mailed or called each other every day,'' he said. The waiting game continued another four months until she flew to Kadena Air Force Base in November.
"Time stopped,'' said Myers. Nothing had changed in the three years since they had seen each other.
He kissed her for the first time and would have married her on the spot.
The couple managed three visits in 2006, the year he was stationed at Souda Bay naval support station in Crete, Greece. He came to Tampa twice to get to know her daughters and she flew to Crete in October.
He transferred to Andersen AFB in Guam in February 2007 as a security officer, with a stopover in Tampa to shop for wedding rings.
Notary Nan Klater officiated at their July 14 wedding in the base chapel, with 10 relatives and friends present.
Four days later, Myers flew back to Guam and Mrs. Myers filed the paperwork to join him.
He's waiting. Patiently.