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Face of Defense: Becoming a Dad 7,000 Miles From Home

By Army Sgt. Walter H. Lowell, 17th Sustainment Brigade

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait, July 21, 2016 — It’s a tale as old as time: soldiers bidding farewell to their families to serve in a faraway land.

Even with technology and the ability to video chat with loved ones, men and women serving in the armed forces face the same reality as their predecessors from wars past: it is hard being away from home.

This is especially true for a father who’s away for the birth of his first child. Four Nevada Army National Guardsmen deployed to the Middle East with the 17th Sustainment Brigade, 1st Sustainment Command, have experienced this emotional roller coaster in the last few months.

“My girlfriend just called me and told me we are having [the] baby,” said Army Spc. Julio Ramirez, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 17th SB.

Ramirez had made arrangements to go on leave to return to Las Vegas for his daughter’s birth, but he learned that the doctor would be inducing labor a few weeks earlier than expected. He quickly returned to Camp Arifjan and was anxiously trying to get through the protocol and paperwork needed to send him home.

“I want to be there to see it happen,” Ramirez said. “I don’t want to miss it.”

First Impressions

Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Reed, an information technology specialist with 17th SB, was overseas when his daughter Ave was born Feb. 17.

“Right when I first got home [on leave], I got to see my baby girl,” Reed said. “I can’t really describe the feeling.”

“It’s amazing to have your first child and [what I felt] the first time I held my little girl,” said Army Sgt. Sean Holm, a chaplain’s assistant with 17th SB, whose daughter Adeline was born April 24. “Every time I held her, it was an amazing experience.”

“It was definitely an experience,” said Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Jovel, an automated logistical specialist with 17th SB, and father to Brooklyn, born April 15. “I felt anxious because the moment was coming which we were preparing for. … I was taken a bit back once the delivery started happening. I felt like passing out, honestly.

“When the baby started coming I was overcome with some weird emotion, a mix of relief, happiness and responsibility,” he said. “I saw my baby come out and realized at that moment that no matter what, she's a part of me, and she is now here.”

“She went into labor early, so I had to scramble to get an early flight,” Holm said. “I ended up getting there a day after she was born.”

Sleepless Nights, Joy

Holm said arriving late was a blessing in disguise, because he was able to spend his time helping his wife with his daughter, rather than only having a few days to help after the birth.

“It felt really nice to be home and take care of both my baby and wife,’ Jovel said. “I liked staying home and taking care of my baby.”

“I didn’t get a lot of sleep,” Reed said, “Newborns are up when they want to be up and eat when they want to eat.”

“I thought the Army would prepare me for sleep deprivation, but it’s nothing like having a newborn,” Holm said.

“I got a whole lot more sleep here [in Kuwait], that’s for sure,” Reed laughed. “My wife and I took 12-hour shifts.”

“It took some adjusting because I was still getting used to the time, so I was kind of sleeping at weird times. [I was] a bit tired since she needed tending to during the night,” Jovel said.

None of the new dads had to shoulder this added responsibility alone, they said -- friends and family were there to lend helping hands.

“They wanted to give us some alone time for the first couple days,” Holm said. “None of them realized that I also needed help. There was so much work and so little sleep.”

Balancing Mission, Family

The soldiers had to return to the Middle East after their approved leave period came to an end.

“It was hard to leave my wife and newborn baby,” Holm said. “I knew I had to come back here. I don’t get to go home until the mission out here is done. The sooner I get back here, the sooner I get to go back home.”

Reed said he uses any chance he gets to talk to his daughter. “I get to video chat with them all the time,” he said. “I get to watch her grow up. She is growing fast.”

“The internet connection now is much better,” Reed said. “It’s hard being away from them, but with technology, it’s as if you’re right there with them too, and the time will go by so quick while you’re here.”

“I keep in touch with my wife using Facebook messenger every day,” Jovel said, “I video chat with them periodically on Facebook.”

“I’ll be there for her first birthday, which will be awesome,” Reed said.

“You have to take it one day at a time,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez was able to make it back in time for the birth of his daughter, Isabella. She was born June 8.
Distribution channels: Military