May 09, 2005 12:00 PM

Thanks to one of our soldiers, America has an answer to the most burning question surrounding Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. On the first leg” of the couple’s tour to entertain troops overseas April 21-25, they visited a hospital ward at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. There they met Lt. Col. John Garcia, a doctor recuperating from injuries suffered while treating soldiers in northwest Iraq. “How long have you been married?” Garcia asked.

“Two and a half years,” said Lachey.

“So you’re on a stable course?” said Garcia, meaning they’d outlasted the honeymoon phase. Lachey, 31, smiled and said, “We’re on the stable course now.” Simpson, 24, nodded. “Everyone should be married.”

For now, so much for the rumors. The USO-hosted tour, which airs as Nick & Jessica’s Tour of Duty May 23 on ABC, was, say the couple, foremost a patriotic salute. “Seeing the sacrifices people are making for our freedom is very moving,” says Lachey But it also served as a diplomatic mission to assure fans that their marriage remains strong. During a break taping a concert for 6,000 soldiers in a vast airplane hangar, Simpson mouthed “I love you” in Lachey’s direction. And she got weepy at the show’s emotional high point—when soldiers were surprised by reunions with loved ones from home. “I can’t imagine having to miss Nick for an entire year and then being on camera and not expecting it, and he walks in,” she says. “I’m a hopeless romantic.”

Still, duty often keeps them apart, especially now that they’re done with MTV’s Newlyweds after three seasons. Simpson will be doing reshoots on The Dukes of Hazzard costarring Johnny Knoxville—both have denied rumors they were anything more than colleagues—while Lachey says he’s headed to Sweden to work on an album. “We stay close using phone, e-mail and video-conferencing,” he says. “But there’s really no substitute for being together. It is hard any way you cut it.”

In fact, the couple were often apart even during this tour: Lachey flew in early so he could train in an F-16 fighter jet. “That’s always been a dream of mine,” he says. “They teach you how to eject and all that stuff. It was the coolest thing ever.” Simpson, meanwhile, headed out to the target range and caused spectators to flinch when she swung an M4 carbine. “Sorry,” she gasped. “I’m used to water guns.”

But ultimately, says Simpson, they’ll come home closer. “As a married couple, to see our impact on people’s lives, that’s a pretty cool deal.”

Tom Gliatto. Kwala Mandel in Ramstein

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