Pen pals' writings and packages become a romance

As "modern-day pen pals," Emily Roshone and Jason Johnson got to know each other while Johnson was stationed in Afghanistan. Their moms brought them together.


Emily Roshone, trying to stay awake during a break in her night shift as a nurse at Methodist Hospital, flips open her laptop to a new email in her inbox.

In the email, Jason Johnson, a 28-year-old soldier stationed in Afghanistan, asks Roshone, "What's your favorite movie?" and "If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?" Roshone, 23, replies: "Roman Holiday" and sprinkled cake doughnuts.

Twice a week, the nurse can expect a message from a friend living 7,000 miles away. The two have never met.

They find out they both love cooking, dogs and their families. Roshone grew up in Omaha with two older brothers and Johnson grew up in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, with two older sisters. Their moms are the reason they began corresponding in June 2012.

Patty Roshone and Susan Johnson were officemates at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha. Patty asked if she and daughter Emily could send emails and care packages to Susan's son, Jason, an Army lieutenant serving in Afghanistan. Susan said yes.

Emily Roshone sent the first email. In the beginning, she saw this "modern-day pen pal" as simply a way to fill downtime during her night shift.

The messages continued for almost a year. Johnson sent Roshone jokes and trivia facts, but he also wrote long messages about his experiences in Afghanistan. Johnson said Roshone also wrote lengthy emails.

"She had a lot to say," Johnson said. "You can kind of base the interest someone has in you off of the size of an email. It was a foot."

He sent her a photo of him brushing teeth with his nephew. He was bald, muscular and looked like he was about her height. Maybe 5-foot-9? She sent him a photo of her with her brothers. "How tall is she? 5-foot-9?" Johnson asked his mom next time they spoke.

Then there were the care packages. Roshone sent Johnson sunscreen, aloe vera and sand toys because he was living in the desert. He told her he loved pingpong, so she sent him a mini pingpong kit. The two shared a love of "The Office," so she sent a bobblehead of character Dwight Schrute.

Most of their interactions occurred over email, but eventually the two became Facebook friends. Roshone didn't hear Johnson's voice until she called to wish him Merry Christmas in 2012 and heard his voicemail.

When Johnson's deployment ended in February 2013, the two discussed meeting. On a rainy day in April, they met at the Family Fun Center on M Street in Omaha to play mini golf and arcade games. Both were nervous. They hugged. Johnson's warmth and enthusiasm reminded Roshone of how he had written with exclamation points and caps lock in his emails.

He had been given a week off to visit his mom in Omaha, but he extended his time to 12 days so that he could spend more time with Roshone. After that, he left for Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington.

Roshone visited Johnson in Tacoma over Memorial Day weekend. The day she got back to Omaha, he bought her a plane ticket to come out the next weekend too.

For two years, the couple dated long distance as Johnson moved from Washington to Fort Huachuca in Arizona followed by Fort Riley in Kansas. Roshone continued to send Johnson care packages in the weeks they were apart. Johnson said they spent all of their money on plane tickets.

"I always promised her that anytime I could get away I would make every effort to see her, even if it was just for a day," Johnson said. "She's worth it."

Johnson proposed in April 2015. He put the engagement ring, which had been her great-grandmother's, in an Easter egg when they celebrated the holiday together.

In October, Johnson retired as a captain from the military and moved here, where he works as a contractor at Offutt Air Force Base. He still serves in the Army Reserve. The couple just bought a house and have two dogs, a Pomeranian named Reese and a boxer named Cora. They'll get married May 21 at St. Bernard Catholic Church.

"We're enjoying being together after the distance and all the time it took to get here," Roshone said.

Both Patty Roshone and Susan Johnson take some of the credit for this match.

"I know they thank the moms for setting them up," Susan Johnson said. "I was hoping that this was going to be the one."

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