Missouri National Guard Sgt. Bill Johnson, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 203rd Engineer Battalion, of Joplin, proposes marriage to his girlfriend of two years, Lori Schnelle, to open the 33rd Annual Engineer Ball. (Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)
By Matthew J. Wilson
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - The tone of the 35th Engineer Brigade's 33rd Annual Engineer Ball hinged on one little word - 'Yes.'
The ball, a traditional gathering of all the Missouri National Guard engineers and their Families at the Pershing Club on fort Leonard Wood, started a little off script as Sgt. Bill Johnson, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 203rd Engineer Battalion, of Joplin, proposed marriage to his girlfriend of two years, Lori Schnelle, in front of the entire gathering.
The mood of the celebratory ball was not dampened by Schnelle, who said 'Yes' to Johnson, who was deployed to Afghanistan with the rest of the 203rd at this time last year.
"I was a little nervous," Johnson admitted. "I had three of four officers tell me, 'You are crazy - there is no way you should do this here.' But I was confident.
"She knew it was coming - she just didn't know it was coming tonight."
Schnelle, who lives in Lockwood, said she had no idea Johnson was going to pop the question at the ball. In fact, even though Johnson was called forward for a 'special announcement,' she didn't know why until he called her forward to join him.
"He talks a lot at events and I thought, 'Who knows what they are calling him up for,'" Schnelle said. "I had absolutely no idea."
Although surprised, Schnelle said the question didn't catch her off guard.
"I'm very pleased," she said. "How could I say, 'no,' to that face?"
The pair met Dec. 13, 2008 and began dating in May of 2009, about four months before the 203rd deployed.
Johnson said he laid the groundwork to ask for Schnelle's hand at the ball while at Forward Operating Bases Orgun-E and Sharana Afghanistan as a Guard paralegal.
"When I was in Afghanistan, I asked her if she would go to the engineer ball with me," he said. "I told her it was just a really nice, formal event. She said yes, she'd go to the engineer ball, so I knew I kind of had her hooked."
Another tell-tale sign that Johnson had impressed Schnelle was that the mother of three wrote and sent him a letter every day during his year-long deployment - not an e-mail, nor a computer-generated letter, but a hand-written missive.
"She is very supportive and proud of my military career," Johnson said. "Her support was incredible. I was the guy who always got mail and I got to talk to her a lot more on the phone than I thought we would. But the letters just meant so much. The military is a big part of our lives and I wanted it to be here and a part of this ball."
Schnelle said Johnson's commitment to his Family and the Guard inspired her to go above and beyond on keeping her promise to him.
"He is a very dedicated man himself," she said. "That's the first thing he asked me when I met him. He said he was going to Afghanistan and he wanted to know if I would write him while he was there. I said, 'Sure, I'll write you.' So I wrote him every day."
The marriage also will bring together their five children - Korie Johnson, 19, Nathan Schnelle, 15, Noah Schnelle, 13, Noelle Schnelle, 10, and Keely Johnson, 9.
The couple said they don't have a wedding date set yet.
"We're just playing that by ear," Johnson said.
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-800-GoGuard or visit www.moguard.com.