PRESCOTT - For many couples, the courting process is filled with candlelight dinners, beautiful flowers, and romantic walks, but for Prescott husband and wife, Don "Lash" LaRue and Jamie LaRue, their courtship was different - a lot different.
Don and Jamie met during their deployment to Iraq with the National Guard in January 2003. Jamie was an Army medic and Don was an Army physician's assistant.
"We went to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin for training - in the middle of winter - to go to the desert," Jamie said. "And that's kind of how it all unfolded."
Living in such an extreme environment allowed the couple to see each other's true-colors immediately.
"You're all in the same place; living in the dust; eating the same food; wearing the same uniform; so it's not like you're going out on a date worrying about a fancy car or steakhouse," Don said.
"When you are in that situation, it takes that whole piece out of the equation because everyone is on common ground," Jamie added.
The lack of 4-star restaurants or moonlight walks on the beach didn't discourage the duo from finding romance within their surroundings.
"We would go on these walks with our body armor on and the town right next to us would be bombed and on fire," Don said laughing at the thought. "So we'd be walking and I'd pick her a dead dusty flower off of a bush. We'd walk past the major dump area and it would be stinky. It was really romantic."
The strength of Don and Jamie's relationship was put to the test when each of them was injured in the field on separate occasions.
Jamie was injured when her convoy came under fire going through Mosul. Her injuries have resulted in knee surgeries and a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis.
Don's injuries resulted from two separate instances when the vehicle he was riding in drove over an improvised explosive device (IED), he said.
"In one of them I got tossed into the front of the vehicle and I didn't really know what all had happened," he said. "I remember getting hurt and going to a medical battalion. But I don't remember what I did there."
The explosions left Don with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and damage to his neck, upper and lower back.
A former professional skateboarder, runner and tri-athlete, Don's injuries currently prevent him from doing most high-endurance sports.
"That's where the Wounded Warrior Project comes in," Jamie said. "They introduce you to new ways of doing old things."
The Wound Warrior Project, or WWP, is a non-profit organization for post-9/11 service connected veterans, Soldier Ride Specialist Shana Gibbs said. The organization offers veterans 19 different programs, through 16 different offices around the country.
Programs focus on a variety of topics such as economic empowerment, athletic events, and peer support.
This weekend, the LaRues are participating in WWP's three-day soldier ride in Phoenix.
WWP provides state-of-the-art cycling equipment to Wounded Warriors at no cost, which includes adaptive hand cycles, trikes, and bicycles to accommodate various injuries and disabilities, as well as upright road bikes for riders not requiring adaptive equipment.
"This is just triggering a physical and wellness lifestyle for some of these warriors," Gibbs said. "What this does is really help with engagement and breaking down some of the bonds of service that these guys to through."
The group will bike 18-miles on Friday and 22-miles on Saturday, Gibbs said.
The LaRue's are one of the only couples in the project that are both wounded veterans and married, Don said. The couple has participated in more than 20 events.
"One of the nice things with WWP, is that on the outside it looks like we are out having fun - and we are-but when it comes down right to it, I've met all these other veterans that are in the same situation as well as other caregivers," Jamie said. "It looks like all fun and games, but there's more of a benefit than just having a great time at a baseball game."
For more information on the Wounded Warrior Project visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org or call (480) 946-0663.
Follow Tamara Sone on Twitter @PDCtsone