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Cupid’s Arrow Lands in War Zone

It may not have the romantic appeal of Paris on the eve of war, but the Internet is now the place for soldiers and Marines in combat to fall in love - through online dating services.

"It always amazes me when I think about how I had to go to Iraq to meet the person I would be with back in the United States," says Jonathan Stoddard, 26, who met Lisa Wagner online while serving as a Marine lieutenant in Anbar province and married her in Fullerton, Calif., last Oct. 26.

Dating services such as Match.com and eHarmony are reporting that numerous servicemembers are finding romance with someone in the United States while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The percentage of military members joining eHarmony online dating increased by 56 percent from 2006 to 2008, says Gian Gonzaga, an eHarmony research psychologist. The companies do not have statistics on how many of their military personnel are deployed overseas.

The life-altering experience of going to war often focuses the romantic mind, Gonzaga says. "When you are reminded of your own mortality, the theory kind of boils down to, you remember what's most important to you, which is relationships," he says.

Access to military Internet cafes in the war zones, or online links for personal laptops, has allowed troops to e-mail, blog and post to MySpace or Facebook pages. Cultivating a romance from half-a-world away in a combat zone can be dicey.

At first, Lisa Stoddard, 24, a nurse, fretted that Jonathan's online overtures were stoked more by sheer loneliness, than true feelings for her, she says. "But through talking to him, I was reassured he was very sincere and genuine," she recalls. Their first get-acquainted chats were over a satellite phone with Jonathan huddled outside - to get the uplink - dressed out in helmet and body armor.

Army Capt. Eric Berard, 38, says online dating was a no-brainer when he deployed to Iraq. "With introduction of the digital age to (the) battlefield, communication is instantaneous and with virtually millions of possibilities," he says.

Berard was in Mosul when he was matched - with an 87 percent compatibility rating - to Deborah DeFilippo. They dated online during his 2004-05 deployment and married Nov. 9, 2006.

"The whole romantic fantasy that plays out in your head of meeting a man at war - the things you see in the movies - I'm sure that was a part of it," says Deborah DeFilippo-Berard, 42, who had previously dated a policeman and a firefighter. "I've always had a thing for men in uniform."

DeFilippo-Berard will join her husband, who is stationed in Germany, later this year. She says the long-distance courtship allowed her and Eric to become thoroughly acquainted. "When I met him (after he returned from war), I probably knew more about him than any other man I had dated."

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