Tacoma resident Amanda Arehart had resigned herself to not having her husband around for the birth of their second child Tuesday.
Seven thousand miles separated the couple as Matt Arehart, a 25-year-old combat medic assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, entered the home stretch of his nine-month deployment to Afghanistan with the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
As Matt served overseas on his third deployment, Amanda raised their 18-month-old daughter Ella and prepared for the birth of their son during a difficult pregnancy.
A day or so earlier, Matt had broken the news to his wife that he would be in the midst of a “big, long mission” when she gave birth at Tacoma General Hospital.
Matt was on a mission, but its objective only crystallized for his 25-year-old wife when he stepped into the hospital room shortly before her scheduled delivery. He not only gave her the first hug they’ve shared in nearly seven months but also the biggest surprise in their yearlong marriage.
“I didn’t believe my eyes for a second,” she said.
The reunited couple then welcomed a healthy Gunner Vincent Arehart into the world by Cesarean section. He weighed 6 pounds, 3 ounces and measured 19 inches.
“I knew it meant a lot to her, so it meant a lot to me to be here,” an exhausted Matt said.
It was a decidedly different experience compared with the birth of their daughter, who was born about three months premature. It was two weeks before the couple could hold her for the first time, Amanda said.
There were health concerns for both mother and child this time around, and Matt had to pull a lot of strings before being allowed to return home for the birth. Amanda’s doctor, Mark Behnam, wrote three letters to Mark’s commanders in an effort to get him home in time, she said.
“I had to fight hard to get here,” Matt said.
He barely made it.
After flying from his forward operating base in southern Afghanistan, Matt had to wait three days to find a seat on a four-hour military flight from Kandahar Airfield to Kuwait on Sunday local time. It was another 18-hour flight to Washington, D.C., and then he had just 45 minutes to board a five-hour flight to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
His friend Ryan Sparber was driving from Port Orchard to pick him up and rush him to the hospital. A State Patrol trooper pulled him over after spotting him texting while driving on Interstate 5 just past the Tacoma Dome. Sparber, 24, said he was updating Matt’s mother.
Sparber hurriedly explained the situation to the trooper, who decided to let him go.
“It doesn’t sound like something you could make up,” Sparber recalled the trooper telling him.
Back at the hospital, final preparations for Amanda’s delivery were under way. The Cesarean section was scheduled to begin at noon, but the doctor and nurses who were in on the secret pushed it back an hour to give Matt more time. They told Amanda another procedure was running long.
“Luckily they were nice enough to push it back, or I wouldn’t have made it,” he said.
Amanda suspected something was afoot. She noticed bank charges in Kuwait, and some of Matt’s buddies in other parts of Afghanistan had asked her on Facebook if he was home yet.
She didn’t want to get her hopes up, however. She had hoped her husband would be online later that evening to introduce father with newborn son using Skype.
There was a knock at the door, and then it opened. Nurses in blue scrubs had huddled around the doorway, some with tears in their eyes.
Matt walked in with about 15 minutes to spare.
For two days before Thanksgiving, Amanda was due to receive the best of both worlds.
“Having a healthy baby and my husband home was more than I could have imagined,” she said.