U.S. soldiers await first glimpse of newborn daughters

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   Somewhere in Kuwait, two fathers from the Tri-Cities are awaiting the first pictures of their newborn daughters. Thousands of miles away, in Elizabethton and Erwin, wives of the servicemen are anxiously awaiting their next conversations with their husbands.
   Heather Nunley of Johnson City, wife of Specialist Steven Nunley of the 82nd Airborne, Signal Battalion, gave birth Wednesday morning to the Nunley's third child, Emmalee Grace, at Sycamore Shoals Hospital. Emmalee, who weighed 7 pounds, 6 ounces, and was 19 inches long with wavy dark brown hair, arrived at 8:34 a.m. by Caesarian birth. Emmalee is the couple's third child.
   Annette Wood of Erwin, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Rodney L. Wood, gave birth to 9-pound, 13-ounce Madison Lee on March 4 at Johnson City Medical Center. Madison, who was 21-1/2 inches long with dark hair, also arrived by Caesarian and also is the couple's third child.
   Nunley said her husband left for Kuwait on Valentine's Day. Prior to yesterday's U.S. airstrikes against Iraq, he was able to call his family every three or four days. "He also had e-mail access," his wife said, "but right now there's no communication whatsoever."
   However, Nunley was fortunate enough to speak with her husband Wednesday morning right after Emmalee's birth.
   "He got to call about 10 a.m. He had gotten prior approval from the commander to make a phone call. Everyone here at Sycamore Shoals has been so kind in making it possible. I think I got into the recovery room at 9:15 and they had me in my room by 9:30 because they knew I was expecting the call. I got to be the one to talk to him and tell him," Nunley said. "He was excited."
   Though she is worried about U.S. military activity in Iraq, "In the long run, I'm glad I got to talk to him and tell him before everything happened, so at least he knows."
   Nunley's brother e-mailed photographs of Emmalee to her father yesterday. "He was hoping to get to check his e-mail one last time yesterday evening, so we put some digital pictures on the Internet real quick so that he could view those and hopefully get a peak at her," Mrs. Nunley said. "But he's not been able to e-mail back or anything to say if he had seen those or not."
   "Deployment of the new baby" was met with mixed reactions by the couple's other two children: Tempia, 3, and Alison, 2.
   "Tempia has been my little helper. She's real compassionate and motherly. She realizes that her daddy is gone. She says that he had to go to Kuwait to go spank the bad guys and put them in time-out because they were being mean. Nobody told her that, that was just what she gathered from a three-year-old's perspective, listening to everybody else talk," Mrs. Nunley said.
   Though Nunley said her two-year-old doesn't understand much of what's going on; she does understand that her father is gone. However, the new baby has raised some "issues".
   "She was mad at me last night. She wouldn't let me love on her at all; she wouldn't look at the baby; she wouldn't look at me. But she came this morning and held the baby for a few minutes and at least gave me a hug and a kiss bye."
   Nunley, a registered nurse, is employed by Cape Fear (N.C.) Valley Medical Center Hospital. However, since the arrival of Emmalee, she said, she may decide to stay in Johnson City with her parents. Steven's parents also live in Johnson City, she said, and family support at this time means a lot. Nunley said Steven's mother is doing "real well," given the current situation.
   Steven's father is a member of the Navy Reserves and participated in Desert Storm. "In fact, here in the room we have a picture of Steven when he was 14, in his dad's uniform from Desert Storm."
   Mrs. Nunley's mother-in-law also had a poster-sized picture of her son made and taken to the hospital for the birth of Emmalee, "so his presence could be here," she said.
   On the day Madison Wood was born, the American Red Cross arranged a telephone call between her mother, Annette, and her father, Rodney, while still at the medical center. However, the satellite link was lost shortly into their conversation.
   With the help of her best friend, Tracy Cravens of Erwin, and the medical center nursing staff, a "behind-the scenes" video diary was filmed, and then the tape and a VCR were shipped by hospital staff to Wood's unit in Kuwait. The tape offers a visual journey of Madison's arrival, her first bath and first meal.
   "We wanted him to be here to see that," Mrs. Wood said. "He wanted to be in the room and to see her born, but we got it on video for him. One of his favorite things is the first day." The Woods have two other children: Drake, 8; and Megan, 17 months.
   Mrs. Wood, a former Jonesborough Police Department officer, said she and her husband were averaging a phone call about every seven days prior to recent military activity. Sometimes the couple only got to talk four minutes. "You get a 20-minute call and it can take 15 minutes to get a connection. When you finally get through, it's like, "I just wanted to tell you I love you. Bye,'" she said. "It's better than nothing."
   Mrs. Wood said Thursday that she last talked to her husband March 12. "I have got a couple letters from him, but they were all before any of this happened. The last one I got was from two days after Madison was born."
   Rodney Wood, an E-7 with the 730th Quartermaster National Guard, left Gray, Tenn., on Jan. 19 for Fort Campbell, Ky., before his Feb. 4 departure to Kuwait. His wife does not know whether he has yet received the video of his daughter's birth.
   Faye Bailey, of Erwin, mother of one of the nurses, crocheted baby Madison a red, white, and blue hat which she was filmed wearing for her dad. Lisa Jennings, R.N., said, "As soon as everyone heard the father was in Kuwait, we wanted to help as much as we could to share the experience with him." Myra Arze, R.N., found a greeting card and illustrated it with American flags inside prints of Madison's hands. This, along with the videotape, was sent to Kuwait.
   Alice Wood, Steven's mother, is, naturally, concerned for her son. "I heard on the news that the older guys are going to take care of the younger ones. That sounds reassuring. The only thing that bothers me is all of the news coverage, like on CNN. It's almost like we're telling them over there in Kuwait what we're doing, because they can get satellite. That scares me. I want them to have a fighting chance if they have to fight."