Cpl. David C. Omalia, a Flint, Mich., native and a vehicle commander with Combined Anti-Armor Team, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, sees his eleven-day-old daughter for the first time through a Video-Tele-Conference at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (Photo by Cpl. Justin Martinez)
Story by Staff Sgt. Matthew Epright
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – With a light smack of the doctor’s hand, a newborn boy grabs his first gulps of air and lets out a tiny wail. This is a scene oft repeated in hospitals around the world. Unfortunately, it’s a scene that some military fathers miss due to deployments that take them away before their child is born.
For one lucky Marine, timing, circumstances and the generosity of the United Services Organization came together to allow him to “be there” with his wife as she gave birth to their baby boy half a world away.
Lance Cpl. Jasen Kratzer, a truck driver with the MEU’s Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22, found out his wife was scheduled to have labor induced for the birth of their son at a hospital in her hometown in Arkansas.
Just two days before the scheduled delivery, the MEU conducted Video Tele-Conference calls between several new dads in the MEU headquarters aboard Camp Buehring and their wives and children back at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Lance Cpl. Jasen Kratzer, a truck driver with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, and native of Kansas City, Mo., poses with his wife, daughter and 30-minute-old son at the United Services Organization office on Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Sept. 1. The USO, at the request of the 22nd MEU chaplain, facilitated a Video Tele-Conference link between Kratzer in Kuwait and his wife in Arkansas for his son's scheduled delivery. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Epright)
“I was definitely excited seeing my daughter. This was the first time seeing my daughter in a video and it brought out the fatherly instinct to be able to see her moving and crying,” said Lance Cpl. John Gebelein, a Virginia Beach, Va., native and 81mm mortar forward observer with Kilo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Gebelein said he is already making plans to get her into sports like softball so she will be well rounded growing up.
“It felt great, I got my morale boosted,” said Sgt. Lawrence L. Minott, native of the Bronx, N.Y., and a generator mechanic with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. “This is the first time I’ve seen my wife since she gave birth. She gave birth two weeks after we left.”
This was the second time the MEU coordinated and conducted the VTC sessions for fathers whose children were born after the unit deployed in May.
After the Father’s Day VTC session aboard USS Bataan, where the 22nd MEU is normally positioned during its seven-month deployment, Kratzer asked his sergeant about the possibility of doing something similar for his child’s birth.
With the remote end of the VTC set up in the II MEF headquarters in North Carolina and Kratzer’s wife giving birth in a hospital in Arkansas, it didn’t look very promising.
Lance Cpl. Jack R. Eagle, a Columbia, Md., native and radio operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, says hello to his four-month-old son through a Video-Tele-Conference at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Aug. 30. The 22nd MEU is ashore in Kuwait conducting sustainment training while serving as the theater reserve force for U.S. Central Command. (Photo by Cpl. Justin Martinez)
Still, Kratzer’s sergeant took the request up through their chain of command and it made it to the 22nd MEU’s chaplain, Cmdr. Richard Bonnette.
When Bonnette looked at the timing of the event, he realized the MEU would be ashore in Kuwait conducting sustainment training aboard Camp Buehring at the time.
Bonnette contacted the Buehring USO director, Larry Cooke, to ask if it was possible to set something up.
Bonnette, and more specifically Kratzer, was in luck. The Buehring USO had coordinated a live birth VTC only four months prior, so they knew just what to do to set it up.
“When it’s unplanned, we usually don’t get there in time. But when it’s planned, then we can make it happen,” said Cooke, a native of Laramie, Wyo.
A few days before the birth, Cooke contacted the USO information technology team to have them unblock the Buehring USO’s ability to connect to Skype, an internet-based teleconferencing site, and temporarily increase the Buehring USO’s internet connection bandwidth.
When the day finally arrived, Kratzer’s unit sent him to the USO and Cooke set him up in their back office, so he could have a measure of privacy.
All through his wife’s more-than-seven-hour labor, USO personnel on duty made sure Kratzer was taken care of, bringing him water and snacks so he could maintain his vigil, and making sure he stayed connected through a couple of network hiccups.
“We’re just happy that we have this capability out here in the middle of the desert and we could bring him and his family closer together,” Cooke said.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, Kratzer comforted his wife and gave her loving words of encouragement as the moment approached.
When the doctor’s hand finally made contact with the brand new boy’s brand new bottom, the cries could be heard all the way in Kuwait and a giant grin broke across Kratzer’s face.
“That was the greatest feeling ever,” he said. “Just knowing that I helped bring a life into the world.”
The 22nd MEU deployed May 15, 2009, aboard the ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group. The unit has since made the transatlantic voyage into the Mediterranean Sea where it conducted training in Greece and Bulgaria. The MEU then transited the Suez Canal and trained with two regional military forces in the Middle East.
The 22nd MEU, led by Brandl, is a scalable, multi-purpose force of more than 2,200 Marines and Sailors. The unit is composed of its Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (commanded by Lt. Col. Robert C. Fulford); Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced) (commanded by Lt. Col. Paul P. Ryan); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22 (commanded by Lt. Col. Gary F. Keim); and its Command Element.