A match made in paradise

By: Nico Rubello | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 12, 2012

 Josh Garrison and Jacquelyn Monastero submitted photos, including this one, to the ABC morning talk show, “Live! with Kelly,” after they were named finalists for the show’s recent Hawaiian wedding giveaway competition.

Josh Garrison and Jacquelyn Monastero submitted photos, including this one, to the ABC morning talk show, “Live! with Kelly,” after they were named finalists for the show’s recent Hawaiian wedding giveaway competition.

Photo by Maria Lisa Photography


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Everything worth having comes at a sacrifice.

That’s a lesson Clinton Township residents Josh Garrison, 31, and Jacquelyn Monastero, 28, have been living for the past 10 years.

In January, their story captured national attention when they were named as one of five finalists for a Hawaii wedding giveaway from the ABC morning talk show “Live! With Kelly.” It was too fitting an opportunity to pass up, considering they met 10 years ago on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

After the show’s announcement, a whirlwind of supportive phone calls, Facebook messages and text messages followed — most from friends and family. A few Army wives they didn’t know even sent Monastero messages on Facebook to let her know they were rooting for them.

“(‘Live! with Kelly’) made a little video montage of us, trying to tell our story to the viewers,” Monastero said. “Just seeing that was strange at first, but it was really cool because not only did people get to learn about our story, but we got to relive the memories ourselves.”

Their story is unique: Fraser girl meets an Army soldier in the tropical paradise of Hawaii, and the two form a connection that refuses to be broken over long distances and long time spans spent apart.

It seemed like something out of a romantic movie.

But real life carries hard truths, like sacrifice. There were the sacrifices of moving away from the comfort of family and a hometown to live in a strange place. And the sacrifice of being separated thousands of miles apart from someone you want to be near.

They met in the spring of 2002 in Honolulu. Monastero and her two best friends from Fraser High School suffered a 12-hour plane delay before they landed on Oahu for their senior spring break. The delay mattered little as they dropped their bags and hit the town, running into two Army soldiers from the nearby base.

The fun carried on a few days later, when the soldiers brought with them their friend, Garrison, an Army sniper. Garrison and Monastero hit it off, spending much of the next few days tanning and taking strolls on the beach together. Garrison called his mother back in Middleburg, Fla., telling her, “Mom, I’m going to marry this girl.”

“It always felt like we were on the same page, even though we lived in two totally different worlds, where he was in the military, and I was going off to college,” Monastero said. “It felt like we got each other. It was carefree, that young love. Even after all these years, we managed to keep it that way too; we still get to have that fun together.”

After Monastero’s vacation ended, she returned home to Fraser. It was several weeks later before his call came. She remembers it like it was yesterday: Hiding away in a quiet back room of a high school party, listening to his voice message — “Hey, this is Josh from Hawaii.” She was on cloud nine.

They exchanged letters and spoke every night on the phone.

When she told her mother that she wanted to return to Oahu that summer with her friends to be with Garrison, Sharon Monastero reacted like any other parent would, with a mix of worry and skepticism.

“You want your kids to follow their dreams and their heart, but at the same time, you want what’s best for them,” Sharon said.

But she was determined; she got a second job and saved for a return trip to Oahu that summer with her two friends. She spent a month there with Garrison before returning home; she had already enrolled at Western Michigan University.

Though they wanted to be together, they couldn’t be, deciding they had to go their separate ways.

Monastero went off to college and tried dating other guys, but always came back to comparing them to Garrison. “He was the bar,” she said. “He was always my high standard of who I want to be with.”

Meanwhile, in January 2004, Garrison was sent to a tour of Iraq that would last more than a year. There, Monastero consumed his thoughts, he said.

“In April 2004, we were in a really big firefight that lasted throughout a day, day-and-a-half or so,” he said. “After that, a lot of perspective things changed. That’s when I realized, ‘If I get out of here alive, I want to get back in touch with Jackie and work on maintaining our relationship.’”

They kept in touch after that, and when Garrison returned from Iraq in 2005 and moved to Georgia as a drill sergeant, Monastero followed, moving out of state for the first time, away from friends and family. And with Garrison working 16 to 18 hours a day, it was a difficult transition, they later wrote in their contest application letter.

After eight months, Garrison was transferred to Germany, and eventually, he was deployed for another tour, this time in Afghanistan. He returned on Christmas Eve 2010 and headed back to Michigan to be with Monastero, though he missed his own family in Florida, he said. It would be six months before he would get to see them.

He made a decision to leave the service.

“I had been in the Army for 10 years,” he said. “I just knew I wasn’t getting any younger, and the more amount of time I spent in the Army, the more amount of time I was going to spend away from Jackie.”

He took a job working 60-plus hours a week for low wages at a local auto parts store — for him, quite a difference from his upper-level Army job, he said. Meanwhile, Monastero — who had already earned her bachelor’s degree — worked on finishing her master’s degree in counseling and was doing an internship.

With one car to split between them, they lived scarcely. Everything they made went toward paying bills and saving for a second car.

“When you’re in the position, you don’t realize how hard it is. But looking back on it now, it’s just like, ‘Wow, how did we do that?’” Monastero said. “As corny as it sounds, even looking back on it 10 years from now, it’ll just make me appreciate everything that much more — him moving here and just everything we’ve been through.”

This past June, Garrison proposed, and she accepted.

“I’m happy for both of them,” Sharon Monastero said. “She always said that she loved him. Even when they were split up, she was always comparing (other guys) to Josh.”

Both are competitive in nature and frequently joke with each other.

“I think we challenge one another, but also complement one another,” Garrison said.

By now, the wedding seems like more of a formality; Monastero said it feels like they’ve been married for a while.

“I’m just more excited of knowing what else is to come, like getting our own place and kids,” she added. “Yeah, I’m very excited for the wedding, but I’m more excited for what the future holds past (the next) four months.”

Their struggles have made them appreciate their relationship that much more, said Garrison, who now works for a private investigator.

Looking back, these sacrifices mean so much to their story, said Monastero, who has found work as a nanny.

Still, the sacrifices aren’t over.

The couple is living in the basement of a friend — one of the friends who joined her on her Hawaiian spring break — while they save for their wedding, slated for this July. That’s why the “Live! With Kelly” giveaway would have helped considerably, Garrison said.

“His family lives far away, and it was hard to decide where we were even going to have the wedding,” Monastero said. “That was one of the main reasons for applying for the contest, because it would have made it easier to have all our family together.”

But a few weeks after they were announced as finalists for the giveaway, a couple from New York were revealed as the winners. Monastero said she was “a little down” about the verdict at first, but some comforting words from Garrison reminded her that it didn’t change anything.

“For right now, the ball is rolling (with wedding planning) and we try to make do with what we can. In the end, no matter what it is, we’re going to be married,” Monastero said. “With or without the contest, I felt very fortunate.

“We made a lot of sacrifices over the past 10 years, whether it be me moving or him moving. But no matter what, there’s always been a sacrifice made in the relationship, and it makes you appreciate it that much more.”