For Mikel Golden, joining the U.S. Navy was a way to leave the streets of his native New York City behind. Both his father and grandfather had been in the U.S. Army and an uncle had been in the U.S. Air Force, but Mikel Golden wanted to be on the water.
"I really had nothing going on for me, so the best opportunity was to try out for the military and see what happened," Mikel Golden said.
In the Navy, he became a fuel handler, making sure it was clean and moving fuel around jets. He was stationed on USS Independence (CV-62), an aircraft carrier based out of Yokosuka, Japan.
USS Independence was decommissioned in 1998, and Mikel Golden was transferred to USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75).
"On the Independence, I worked the flight deck and on the Truman, I worked below decks, transferring all the fuel," Mikel Golden said.
It was on that ship that Mikel Golden met the woman who would change his life — Tina Yocky, now Tina Golden.
"I was on the ship, talking to buddies," Mikel Golden said. "She came walking into the room and I looked at my buddy and said, 'I'm going to talk to her and in two weeks, we'll be going out.'"
Out of 5,000 people on the USS Harry S. Truman, only 500 were women, and Tina didn't notice Mikel Golden right away.
Tina Golden was the first member of her family to serve in the military.
"I had graduated from high school and didn't really feel like college was perfect for me, right away," Tina Golden said. "I had somebody tell me about the Navy and I thought, 'wow, that sounds kind of exciting.'"
She talked to a recruiter and two weeks later, she was off to the Navy Military Entrance Processing Station.
"My mom pretty much lost it. She had no idea I was going to do anything like that," she recalled.
Tina Golden chose to work with personnel records, but that was not her only job. She also learned firefighting, first aid and hole patching.
"When you're on a Navy ship like that, you're in pretty much a self-sustaining little city, so you have to find a way to make things happen and make things work," she said. "It was neat to get to know some of those different types of jobs."
Tina Golden also liked getting to know the people around her — including Mikel Golden.
"I started hanging out with her and we got close," Mikel Golden said.
"The funny thing was, I was engaged to someone," Tina Golden added.
Acting on his crush, Mikel Golden took a chance.
"Valentine's Day was coming up and I said, 'hey, why don't you ask your fiancée if you can go out to dinner with me? Not a big deal, we'll just go out as friends,'" Mikel Golden said.
When Tina Golden got permission from her fiancée, Mikel Golden bought her two dozen roses, took her to dinner, and then walked her around Virginia Beach. In another grand gesture, he handed her his cell phone.
"Back then, cell phones were a little more new," Tina said.
"Yep, I let her use my cell phone to call her mom," Mikel Golden grinned.
"I got to sit and talk to my mom for a while, and that was something you couldn't always do, because you had to pay long distance," Tina Golden said. "Even though it didn't cost him anything extra, I still thought it did."
Feeling a connection, the two stayed close as their ship spent time in the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
"We were each other's support system during the cruise. We'd hang out, work out, we'd eat together," Mikel Golden said. "Obviously, there was no fraternization or anything like that, but certain people in the uppers knew we were close."
Life on board a ship in tight quarters was not always easy. While Mikel Golden said he loved being rocked to sleep by the ocean's waves, Tina Golden was more prone to seasickness.
"When you're on the ocean in the middle of the night, you can see every star," Mikel Golden said. "It's just peaceful."
"It was quite the experience," Tina Golden said.
"I loved it," Mikel Golden said.
"I didn't feel the same," she replied.
When USS Harry S. Truman returned to the United States, Mikel and Tina Golden went shopping at a mall. While she was looking elsewhere, he bought a ring.
"If he has any type of gift for anybody, he has a really hard time holding back," Tina Golden said with a smile. "He decided to propose in the parking lot of the mall."
"I would have done it in the store," Mikel Golden laughed.
Mikel and Tina Golden were married on Sept. 1, 2001. The couple returned from their honeymoon on Sept. 9, 2001. Two days later when the Sept. 11 attacks began, Mikel Golden was on shore duty while Tina Golden was on duty on the ship, while it was in dry dock.
"I was watching TV and saw the first tower get hit and thought, 'what is this movie,'" Mikel Golden recalled.
His first thoughts were filled with worry his family back in New York City and for Tina Golden.
"They locked down the boat, so she couldn't leave the boat. They locked down the base and told us to get every aircraft we could up in the air, and we did," Mikel Golden said, adding quietly, "that was a very, very bad time for us."
Ending his military career as a Petty Officer 2nd Class, Mikel Golden served in the Navy for eight years.
"I really enjoyed serving. I felt a lot of pride in doing it," Mikel Golden said. "I would have done 30 years in the Navy if I would have stayed single."
Mikel and Tina Golden have two daughters; Alanna and Kylie.
"He's probably the most amazing dad and husband I could have asked for," Tina Golden said.
Tina served fours years in the Navy, ending up with the rank Petty Officer 3rd Class. She would go on to work with submarines and SEAL teams at Little Creek Amphibious Base.
"I didn't love it when I was in, but when I got out, man, did I see the beautiful impact the military really did have on me. It created the person that I am, what I have inside," Tina Golden said.
Both Mikel and Tina Golden are members of the American Legion and participate in events like the Veterans Day parade.
"We try to make sure and be out there for those events, just to represent and try to get some of the younger generation out there to march, too," Tina said.
The couple encourages young people to check into military service.
"If you need a dose of just growing up, that can be an amazing way to do it," Tina Golden said. "I'm glad that that's how my path took me, ultimately."
Being in the Navy gave the pair the chance to see many different countries.
"You really get to see the world," Mikel Golden said. "Are there tough times? Yeah, but you're going to travel for free, you're going to check out everything, you're going to eat fine, you're going to have to put up with some stuff, but it's going to make you a stronger person and you're going to meet some of the greatest people."
Both Mikel and Tina Golden earned bachelor's degrees in organizational leadership from Central Christian College of Kansas. Mikel Golden received a second bachelor's degree in criminal justice and is now a lieutenant with the McPherson Police Department. He spent six years on the Drug Task Force and is currently the assistant team leader of the Emergency Response Team.
"When I go to work with the police, there are 12 veterans that I work with," Mikel Golden noted.
Because of her love of working with military personnel, Tina Golden now is employed by the Department of Defense at McConnell Air Force Base as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Manager for the Kansas Air National Guard's 184th Intelligence Wing .
"I just wanted to get back in with the military people. There's something so special in the camaraderie and the connection that those people have — it's beautiful," Tina said.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.