Posted at 4:35 p.m., Dec. 3, 2014

Student overcomes overseas odds

Nicci Johnson never imagined the life she encountered at the age of 17.

Though she was still a student at Cheyenne East High School, she was on her own. Her parents died before she finished high school, a hardship most never face.

Fortunately, she was not without family and support in her life. Nicci met Mino Johnson while she was still in high school. Soon after, they were engaged, married in April 2012, and Mino, a Marine, learned he would be stationed in Japan.

Getting the paperwork in order so that Johnson, still in high school, could accompany her husband to Japan was a long process.

“I moved in with my in-laws,” Johnson said. “I decided to finish high school online to focus without any outside influences.

Skype helps relationship grow

She finished high school in October 2012, a year earlier than her regular graduating class. She maintained her relationship with her husband through Skype, but the price of seeing him in person was simply too much.

“I hardly went anywhere except maybe to the gym or lunch with friends,” Johnson said. “We were ready for a visit, but tickets were expensive.”

Looking at each other through the screens of computers, the couple talked about all they wanted to experience in their relationship…including, as most couples do, having a baby.

After months apart, Johnson flew to Japan to see her husband for 23 days in December 2012.

Not long after her return to Wyoming, Johnson went through a period of feeling tired and nauseous. She was cramping. She was late.

In January 2013, she took a pregnancy test.

“When it showed up positive, I was dancing on the toilet in happiness and fear all at the same time,” Johnson said.

Later that day on Skype, she showed her husband the test.

“He smiled so big, then said he'd call me back,” Johnson said. “He wanted to go tell his friend down the hall in the barracks.”

Though she was happy to have the support of her husband, she was still scared. She was 18 years old. She was living with her in-laws. Her husband was thousands of miles away. Would they get approval from the military for her to live with him in Japan? Would they be together for ultrasounds, the birth, or even the first few months of life?

“Most teen moms worry about whether the dad will have anything to do with the baby,” Johnson said. “I was just wondering if I'd have the option to have him there due to the military.”

Request finally approved for Japan

Fortunately, another request to move to Japan was approved.

“I was then 22.5 weeks pregnant, packing and getting ready to travel 24 hours to Okinawa, Japan, alone, leaving all my family and friends behind,” Johnson said.

By March, Johnson was in Japan and enrolled in college through Allied American University, a university that offers online learning degree and certificate programs for working professionals, stay-at-home parents, military service members and disabled individuals.

Despite the challenges of living in another country halfway around the world, pregnancy and then birth, Johnson worked hard on her studies.

“I was on the dean's list three times and the president’s list once,” she said.

The couple welcomed their son, Avery Johnson, in September 2013. He’s 14 months old now.

Johnson loves motherhood.

“Though money is tight, and things don't always go as planned, being a young mother is amazing,” she said. For now, she’s happy to be a stay-at-home mom, but she plans to continue college and aspires to start her own baby clothing, diaper and accessory line. She said she’s proud of what she’s been able to accomplish at such a young age, as a young mother, living in a foreign country, in which she never thought she would even visit.

Like all mothers, she still has worries.

“It is very scary knowing any second I could be raising Avery on my own if my husband were to go on an exercise or deployment,” Johnson said.

She also lamented her husband and son never knew her parents.

“Dealing with that is hard, but it definitely makes me stronger,” she said. “I talk about my parents to Avery when I can.”

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