SPOKANE, Wash. - When U.S. Army Pfc. Mike Carroll was married May 6, he was in Iraq and his bride, Sabrina Clark, was in Montana.
Standing next to Sabrina and saying "I do" was his new mother-in-law, Lee O'Keefe. After exchanging vows, Sabrina kissed a photograph of Mike and O'Keefe kissed her daughter on the cheek.
The new Mrs. Carroll and her husband, both from Spokane, had become engaged while he was home on leave from South Korea in April on his way to a new assignment in Germany.
They decided not to wait until he returned from a year's tour of duty and hoped to tie the knot in Europe before he shipped out to the war in Iraq, said O'Keefe, who lives in Rosalia, south of Spokane.
But when Carroll was sent to the Persian Gulf before paperwork problems could be resolved, the couple turned to the mother-daughter proxy ceremony. It solved a logistics problem, even as it raised eyebrows among laid-back Montanans.
"In my 10 years, this is the first," said Justice of the Peace Wanda James of Superior. "I don't even have a ceremony for substituting names. It was a stretch for me, too. I'm winging it."
Montana is believed to be the only state that allows marriages by proxy without the missing partner being connected to the ceremony by telephone.
O'Keefe said she found out about proxy marriages while staying in a military hotel in Germany, where she and her daughter were trying to arrange a quick marriage to Carroll in late April before he shipped out to Camp New Jersey in Kuwait.
Unable to marry in Frankfurt, Germany, because of paperwork requirements, O'Keefe and her daughter were making arrangements to fly with Carroll to Denmark, which had a three-day waiting period, when Carroll was placed on 12-hour recall.
That made it impossible for him to travel to Denmark and two days later, he was shipped to Kuwait.
But before Carroll left, O'Keefe was surfing the Internet and found a page on proxy marriage that told her "I could marry my daughter in place of him" in Montana.
Carroll had earlier signed a power of attorney prepared by a military judge advocate general's office and O'Keefe and her daughter flew home to Seattle, where they had left a car.
Driving straight through to Montana, the women picked up Carroll's sister Tonya Carroll, literally, on Interstate 90 in Spokane on their way to Superior, about 200 miles east.
James, the justice of the peace, had cleared her docket that day, but waited while Sabrina went to a local hospital for a rubella test, then performed the 10-minute civil ceremony.
The bride wore white; white sweat shirt and a T-shirt with a stain from the long flight from Germany to Seattle. The stand-in groom wore a black jacket and blue jeans.
"We exchanged rings, I put his on my thumb, and said the vows," O'Keefe said. "She kissed his picture at the end and I kissed her on the cheek."
It was the first marriage for Sabrina, 22, and Mike Carroll, 25. It was the first proxy marriage for O'Keefe.
The new Mrs. Carroll held a flower arrangement given to her by nurses at a local hospital. Carroll's sister filmed the event for her brother and other family members to watch later.
"They were very serious. They had gone to Germany with hopes of getting married there, then Denmark. Then they came to good old Montana," James said. "They were very serious about it, but elated to be able to do it. They were tearful. Obviously, they were willing to go to great lengths to get married."
Montana allows a bride or groom to authorize another person, through power of attorney, to act as his or her proxy during the ceremony.
In this case, Carroll's mother-in-law took his place beside Sabrina, after quick trips to the clerk's office and local hospital for the rubella test.
Texas has affidavits of absence if one of the parties is unable to be present, and has a prison proxy form for those who are incarcerated. Colorado has a similar law, but both states require the other person to say their vows by telephone.
Mother and daughter spent a recent Friday shopping for a "desert ring," an inexpensive wedding band soldiers can afford to lose in the field or dump if taken prisoner, O'Keefe said.
Sabrina plans to go to nursing school and holds a night job while she waits for her husband to come home next year. She also plans a formal wedding ceremony with him.
"When he gets off that plane, he's finally going to see his bride," O'Keefe said. "That will be after their first anniversary."
Carroll didn't learn for more than a week that he was a newlywed, getting the news from a sergeant.
Later, he was able to call Sabrina.
"Are we married?" he asked.
"Yeah, we're married," Sabrina replied.
"Did we have fun?" he asked.