tampabay.com

Making their own military history

When love and service call, they both answer.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published February 23, 2007


TAMPA - They met at a Bucs game in 2004. She showed up with a mutual friend. They became so engrossed in conversation that neither would remember who won the game.

Len Williams and Laura Dantzscher hit it off like a couple of giddy kids.

They shared a military bond. One of Len's close relatives was in the Marines and had been among the first wave of troops spearheading the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Laura's brother served in the Army and her sister was a Navy veteran.

Both had been profoundly affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Not long after the game let history note that the Bucs lost, Laura told Len that she wanted to join the Air Force. As it happened, he was considering joining the Army Reserves or National Guard. "Could God have sent this woman to me?" he wondered.

Date followed date, and soon the couple were talking about a military life together. Join the active Air Force, too, she urged him. With a little luck, she said, they might be stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, close to their Pinellas homes. She imagined them bumping into each other on the sprawling base. Who might outrank whom? They laughed about saluting each other.

Len called the recruiter Laura had spoken to. Soon both were scheduled for physicals.

Len's Marine relative, a man who had experienced the confused madness of Iraq, wondered what he was thinking. Soldiers were getting killed in Iraq. "I don't want anything to happen to you," Len remembers him saying. Len had no assurance that he would spend his entire military stint at MacDill. The relative reminded him that anything could happen once he signed up. He could be deployed anywhere.

But Len and Laura couldn't be swayed, whatever the bad news overseas or the hardships they faced by joining. They felt a sense of adventure.

Laura took her physical in a group of fresh-faced recruits. When someone ordered them to hit the floor on their knees and bounce back up, she looked down and thought: The floor looks awfully hard. But she did as she was told.

Len was struck by the exactitude of the Air Force's physical testing. He was put through several days of scrutiny, much more than seemed strictly necessary. After all, he played soccer twice a week and kept in shape.

Both of them passed all the tests. They signed the necessary papers and joined. Now they both belonged to Uncle Sam.

They insist training was a breeze (a lot of recruits say that when it's over). Sure, Len admitted, he sometimes looked uneasily at the fitter men surrounding him as an instructor barked at them to pick up the pace of a run. It was easy to ask himself in the cold at 5 a.m. as he did pushups or deep-knee bends, "What am I doing?"

On Sept. 2, 2006, Len and Laura married in a ceremony at MacDill's chapel. They walked under a canopy of swords and a DJ played a CD of the Air Force song that begins, "Off we go, into the wild blue yonder." A short honeymoon in Hawaii followed. These days, she has to salute him on base because he outranks her.

Not long ago, as Len was settling into the MacDill routine, his Marine relative, now discharged, asked him a question:

Dad, how do you like the Air Force?

Len Williams, a doctor for more than 20 years who is an internist at Bay Pines VA Medical Center, holds the rank of lieutenant colonel. He likes the Air Force fine even though it's all new to him. So does Laura Dantzscher, a Pinellas School Board nurse with 23 years in health care who served three years in the Army - a quarter-century ago. She's a captain.

He is 51. She is 46.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or (813)226-3436.

Encounters

About the series

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, please contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727)892-2924.