When an Army brigade returned home from Afghanistan nine months ago, many military couples celebrated the occasion by starting a family. They didn’t expect the brigade would be sent to a new war a few months later, leaving behind pregnant wives.
Unlike other baby booms on military bases that typically follow nine months after a war’s end, the current one at Fort Campbell, Ky., is bittersweet as women prepare to give birth while their husbands are again overseas.
In the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade, 75 to 100 couples are expecting, said Cherriann Diaz, wife of the brigade’s command sergeant major. She also said as many as 20 percent of wives in the brigade’s 3rd Battalion, Alpha Company became pregnant after troops returned from Operation Enduring Freedom.
The women are calling the babies the “Afghani babies,” Mrs. Diaz said.
“We joke that there must be something in the water around here,” said Army Spc. Lakesha Young, an expecting mother in the 102nd Quartermasters whose husband is in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division.
Spc. Young, whose company is serving in Iraq without her, said she knows six other pregnant women in the company.
One military wife recently gave birth after caring for her six other children throughout her pregnancy, Mrs. Diaz said, adding that it is unusual for troops to return from a war and be deployed to another war in less than nine months.
Spc. Young said the pregnant women, with their husbands overseas, rely on other wives on the base for moral support. She said they find comfort in talking to each other.
“Someone always has it worse than the next person,” she said.
Spc. Young met her husband while both were serving in Korea. They got married Dec. 6, soon after they returned to Fort Campbell.
In a word, she said it has been “crazy” having her husband overseas while she is pregnant with their first child, a girl.
“I wish he could be here, but I know he has an obligation to be [in Iraq],” she said.
She has been unable to communicate with her husband via e-mail, and letters take a month to reach the troops, so she waits by the phone for him to call. She said she is hoping for a call once a week until she gives birth, which is expected July 5.
Mrs. Young said she isn’t worried that she does not know who will be by her side when she does go into labor, but she is afraid of what may happen to her child if she and her husband are deployed simultaneously.
“My concern is the baby may not know either of us,” she said. “I hope they do their job and get home safe. They have another war going on here with the babies.”
Spc. Leah English, 23, gave birth to her new son, Tyler, in May, with her husband also in Iraq with the 101st Airborne.
Should the division still be in Iraq come September, Spc. English said she may be deployed to Iraq as well, leaving her new son and other two children, ages 2 and 3, to live with her mother.
“It’s always on your mind,” said Spc. English, also a member of the 102nd Quartermasters. “I just raise my kids the best that I can when I am here.”
She said she knew there would be difficulties raising a family in the military, but that she doesn’t regret for a second the life she chose. She, too, met her husband in Korea.
Jeri Chapelle, a spokesman for the medical center at Fort Hood, Texas, said the post also saw a spike in births this month. But she attributed it to stormy weather, which she says can induce labor.
Mrs. Chapelle said she is expecting a major boom to occur nine months after the 4th Infantry Division returns from Iraq, where it is serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
There was a tremendous surge in births at Fort Hood after the Persian Gulf War, Mrs. Chapelle said. She tracks births on a chart on her office door. She remembers the hospital delivering 22 babies in one day in February after the war ended.
Fort Stewart, Ga., is likewise expecting a boom after the return from Iraq of the 3rd Infantry Division, said Laurie Kemp, a spokesman for the Winn Army Community Hospital.
She said the hospital is expecting to average between 130 and 140 births per month during the first year after the troops’ return.
That is up from their overall average delivery rate of 105 per month. The projections are based on statistics from the period after the division’s return in 1991.
But statistics on birth rates or the knowledge that other women are in similar situations provides only so much comfort to new and expectant mothers.
Spc. English, who works and cares for her three children, said the baby usually wakes her up at 3 a.m., and if she’s lucky her husband calls about that time.
“I am very proud of my family and I am very proud of my husband,” Mrs. English said. “[The Iraqis] needed help and they will be able to lead the kind of life we do in part because of him.”