Vermont National Guard members Ric Volp and Sienna Fontaine show off more than 72 letters they sent to one another while Fontaine was away at basic training last summer. The Milton couple recently won a Vermont military wedding from the industry. (Photo by Jacqueline Cain)

Vermont National Guard members Ric Volp and Sienna Fontaine show off more than 72 letters they sent to one another while Fontaine was away at basic training last summer. The Milton couple recently won a Vermont military wedding from the industry. (Photo by Jacqueline Cain)

If Ric Volp could invite 22,000 people to his wedding, he would. That’s how many votes he and fiancée, Sienna Fontaine, received to win the 2014 Salute to our Soldiers grand prize wedding this month.

But the Milton couple will happily stick to the 150-person guest limit for their October nuptials at the Barn at Boyden Farm. In fact, they’re thrilled with their entire prize package.

More than 30 vendors from around the state, including caterers, florists and musicians, are offering their services to give Fontaine and Volp a storybook Vermont wedding, organized by Vermont Enchanted Events and

“The military can be very hard on families and relationships, so I think it’s great that these vendors want to come together and extend their thanks to us,” said Volp, an 11-year National Guardsman and father of three. “It’s very humbling.”

The busy couple is grateful. Sitting at a craft show last Saturday, selling prints and cards of her painted artworks, Fontaine scribbled thank-you notes between helping customers at her booth.

Written letters were an important piece of Fontaine and Volp’s early romance.

Before leaving for basic training, Fontaine wrote Volp 72 letters for every day she’d be gone. She penned more from her bunk, and from their Milton home, Volp also sent daily missives.

The correspondence replaced email and even phone calls while Fontaine was away. The couple agrees the letters brought them closer; Fontaine said Volp opened up about his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan in his writing, too.

The couple’s dedication, showcased in the lengthy, co-written, romantic love story they submitted to the contest, made the couple stand out to the panel that chooses three finalists. There were 50 entries this winter, co-founder and wedding planner Jackie Watson said.

“The two of them telling their story from different sides, telling us about how they wrote each other … really touched my heart,” she said.

Apparently, total strangers agreed: In addition to family and friends promoting the contest between Valentine’s Day and March 14, many unknown voters were dedicated to helping them win, Fontaine said. During the craft show, visitors recognized them from the contest. Fontaine was thrilled to tell them their votes counted.

Fontaine, 27, and Volp, 32, are this year’s beneficiaries of what Watson said is a way to give back to people who give so much to others.

The sponsors, many with significant military ties, are generous with their donations because the contest resonates with them, too, Watson said.

The bride-to-be, raised on a dairy farm in Williston, always pictured a barn wedding for her special day. Working with eager vendors takes the work out of planning the fête – especially with only seven months to go.

Vermont Enchanted Events CEO Watson originally envisioned a contest for police, first responders and medical personnel, she said. Her own husband – whom she married at this year’s contest venue – is a sergeant with the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department, giving her first-hand experience with the sacrifices such a job takes.

Watson and co-founder Lorin Holmes of the web directory soon discovered deep the connections between the military and service-driven organizations like EMS, firefighting, law enforcement and the medical field.

It fits the betrothed: Volp is a Burlington cop, and Fontaine wants to join a medical unit after earning her masters in social work. Last year’s winning couple also included a police officer, Watson said.

Planning a wedding with a military schedule can be difficult. Finding time to plan a party around drill weekends, training and deployments on top of the usual stressors is particularly challenging.

Besides a television appearance with Watson, Saturday’s craft show was the first time Fontaine spent time with her fiancé since they won the contest. They put it to good use: In addition to the thank-you notes, they picked their guest list and bridal party, she said.

Salute to our Soldiers also accounts for the importance of marriage in the military, Watson said. A fiancé does not receive the same benefits as a legal spouse, and with a deployment looming, military couples often make it official in a hurry, she said.

While Volp acknowledges the incentives to get married, he and Fontaine didn’t feel pressured, he said. He proposed in November, but the couple didn’t think they’d make it down the aisle until next fall. By then, Fontaine will have graduated and Officer Training School. Plus, one of her sisters is away at Fort Jackson, S.C. for training.

But they’re grateful for the opportunity. Even before their first date, Fontaine knew there was something different about Volp.

In summer 2012, Fontaine was working as lead merchandiser at the Healthy Living market, focusing on her art and considering joining the military, as she had often before. But she also felt it was time to meet the right person.

Volp also believed the girl of his dreams was out there, despite increasing skepticism after his deployment and going through a divorce upon his return.

“Deployment is extremely hard on any relationship. One of the things that really work with Sienna and I is we can really relate,” Volp said.

Dating Volp helped Fontaine realize she really did want to be part of the Army, she said. She joined eight months after they started dating, and two months later, she was off to basic training for 10 weeks. Then came the letters that, unknown to them, would make their dream wedding a reality.

For the hardworking Fontaine and Volp, writing to each other was – and still is – a necessary way to communicate.

“It’s something we’ve incorporated into our life without even meaning to,” Fontaine said.

And with help from Salute to our Soldiers, they’re able to save and look forward to a relaxing honeymoon in 2015.