Breaking News Emails
A special operations airman killed during free-fall training earlier this month had asked his wife to renew their wedding vows only two weeks earlier.
Tech. Sgt. Marty Bettelyoun proposed for a second time after eight years of marriage to Jennifer, promising her the dream ceremony they had never got around to having.
“We were going to have a huge wedding on the beach,”Jennifer Bettelyoun told NBC News. “We both loved it and spent a lot of time there.”
Bettelyoun, a combat controller and father of five, died on Aug. 4 while training at Hurlburt Field near Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Two-time Bronze Star recipient Tech. Sgt. Timothy Officer Jr. also was killed during the incident. Both were members of the 720th Operations Support Squadron.
The elite airman married Jennifer in a simple ceremony eight years ago shortly before being posted overseas to a British base.
The couple had been due to move from their home in Navarre, Florida, to Okinawa, Japan, in September, Jennifer said.
They planned to combine their wedding “with a huge going away party” on Florida's Mirabar beach.
“We had invited a whole bunch of people,” said Jennifer, 35. “This time we were going to get married properly, surrounded by the people we love.”
A whirlwind romance followed their meeting in January 2007 in the bar where she worked.
“He would always come in, get a Coke and do his homework for his advanced skill training class,” she said. “It was the last thing he needed to do before going on to be combat controller.”
"We woke up on a Tuesday morning and he said: ‘Want to get married today?’ I said: ‘Yeah sure lets do it.’"
It wasn’t long before Bettelyoun — who she described as “a talker, big time” — asked her out.
The single mom with two kids from a previous marriage — Kalyn and Olivia Rubino, now 16 and 13 — accepted the “handsome” serviceman's offer and they quickly became serious.
“He took the kids on as his own,” she said. “He was fantastic with them.”
After graduating from his course, Sgt. Bettelyoun was posted to the British Royal Air Force base at Mildenhall, England — home of the 48th Fighter Wing.
“If I was going to go with him, we had to get married quickly,” she said. “We woke up on a Tuesday morning and he said: ‘Want to get married today?’ I said: ‘Yeah sure lets do it.’ That was it.”
Just seven months after their first meeting, a justice of the peace wed the couple. “It was very small but we didn’t care because we were in love,” Jennifer said.
In England, the couple had three more children: Benjamin, now seven, Isabelle, five, and four-year-old Molly.
“He gave me fair warning before we got married, telling me he would never be home, always be on the road and he had a very dangerous job,” she said, adding that he had been away about 255 days a year.
After he was posted back to Florida around 18 months ago, the family “got to see him a lot more,” Jennifer said.
“I’m thankful for that now,” she said. “That he got to spend so much time with the kids.”
It was during this time that the couple also took in Jennifer’s 17-year-old cousin, Joey. The teen had lost his mom to cancer and his father to a heart attack. The grandmother they shared — who Joey had been living with — passed away last year.
All of the children were dealing with Bettelyoun's death in different ways, she said.
Benjamin, who never liked being the only boy, “is just torn up,” she said, while the youngest, Molly, is “crying herself to sleep.” Joey “is just keeping himself to himself,” she said.
The entire family has been looking forward to the beach wedding celebration, she said.
After celebrating their eight-year anniversary in Biloxi, Mississippi, in July, they “were like two kids in love,” she said.
“We went to Navarre Beach near our home where we spent lots of time. It was sunset as a family and Marty got down on one knee and proposed,” she said. “It was so sweet and heartfelt.”
But instead of celebrating, the family is now mourning.
A “beautiful” memorial service attended by more than 650 people had brought home how popular her husband had been, Jennifer said.
“Even after we were married with five kids, if we went on a date I’d be scared of going to the bathroom because I knew that by the time I came back I’d be on a date with the whole bar,” she said. “He made friends so easily.”
She added that the streets had been lined with people as they made their way to the full military funeral with honors.
While the full details of what happened to her husband remain unclear, Jennifer said she had been told that “two of the parachutists collided in the air” during a routine training jump.
“I guess they hit helmet to helmet,” she said.
With the kids enrolled in a local school, the family had planned to stay in the area but she now doubts they can stay “because it’s too hard for all of us.”
“We will stay strong,” she said. “I have no doubt it is what Marty would have done and what he would have wanted.”