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APSU couple to graduate May 7, be commissioned together as Army lieutenants

There are two ways for Shamai Larsen and Ryan Welch to tell their story of how they met and fell in love.

Should I tell the condensed version or the whole thing? Larsen asked her husband.

Probably the short one, Welch replied.

For the next several minutes, the couple – scheduled to graduate Friday, May 7 from Austin Peay State University and become commissioned as lieutenants in the U.S. Army – discussed back and forth the day their paths intersected.
There are two ways for Shamai Larsen and Ryan Welch to tell their story of how they met and fell in love.

“Should I tell the condensed version or the whole thing?” Larsen asked her husband.

“Probably the short one,” Welch replied.

For the next several minutes, the couple — scheduled to graduate Friday, May 7 from Austin Peay State University and become commissioned as lieutenants in the U.S. Army — discussed back and forth the day their paths intersected.

“We both spent Christmas in California with our families but in different cities,” Larsen, a native of Alaska, said.

“We flew back the same day, and our planes crossed,” said Welch, who is from southern California.

Their planes landed at the same airport, and they waited for their connector flights at nearby gates. Little did they know that they were waiting for the same plane.

Welch noticed Larsen, and “he thought I was cute,” she said.

“I thought, if she's waiting for the same flight, I'll talk to her then,” Welch said.

The plane took off, but he never approached Larsen on the plane.

“This is the best part,” he said. “I was picking up my bags and I thought of the best line to say to her. I said, ‘Oh, is that your bag?' She looked at me, didn't say a word and walked away.”

Eventually, the two began to talk and discovered that they were in the Army and, surprisingly, stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Since that first day, they have stuck together. They enrolled in the Army's Green-to-Gold program, meaning they entered APSU from an active duty-enlisted military career to earn college degrees so they can become officers.

Their participation in the ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program at the University also has been successful. Last week, Larsen received three awards from the APSU Department of Military Science and Leadership: the Outstanding Cadet Award, Army ROTC President's Award and the Pallas Athene Award. She also was the first APSU student ever to receive the Bronze Cross of Achievement Award, an honor presented last October to only eight cadets nationwide out of 4,500 in the Class of 2010.

In addition to the military and academics, Larsen competed as a runner on the Lady Govs cross country team and women's indoor and outdoor track teams.

On May 7, Larsen will earn a bachelor's in health and human performance, and Welch will receive his degree in finance. Both also will be sworn in as new lieutenants in the Army. In July, they will be sent to officer branch training before moving to Fort Lewis, Wash., for their first assignment as officers — he in the Engineer Corps and she in the Medical Services Corps.

“It didn't hit me until a couple of days ago that we are getting ready to become officers,” Larsen said. “He and I have worked hard to move up through the ranks.”

The duo have accomplished much together in the last two years as husband and wife. They entered the Green-to-Gold program together, and now they are graduating and being commissioned at the same time.

Looking at her husband, Larsen said, “It's nice having a spouse who understands the same thing.”

And in three years, both will leave the military the same day. Welch then will pursue graduate studies in finance and work toward a law degree. Larsen said she wants to be a stay-at-home mom.

Their future years together will evolve into great stories of perseverance and commitment. Yet, just like the story about the day they met, they will have to have a short version. -- Melony Shemberger