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Up All Night: USO Camp Hansen Acts Quickly to Link Marine to Delivery Room for Daughter's Birth

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

Cody Thomas knows what it’s like to miss a life-changing event.

So when he hung up from a call with his wife the night before Thanksgiving, he was frustrated beyond words.

Half a world away, Samantha was waiting to deliver the couple’s third child.

And waiting. And waiting.

Her C-section had been scheduled right about the time Cody – a Marine lance corporal – got a break from guard duty on Camp Hansen, Okinawa. He’d planned to talk her through the birth via a Skype connection from USO Camp Hansen. But emergency issues with other patients had pushed her delivery back several hours.

Tired and distraught, the 22-year-old Marine thought he was going to miss the arrival of his third child, just as he hadn’t been able to witness their first.

But two people were determined to keep that from happening.

“He went to our designated Skype area to make the call and he came back out looking a little down and dejected,” USO Camp Hansen Manager LouBee Zielinski said. “I immediately thought: ‘What can we do?’ … A volunteer (Marine Pfc. Israel Ramos) who was standing alongside me right away jumped in and said ‘I’ll help out.’”

While most Americans would have access to an Internet connection from the privacy of their own home to view such an event, the unit-deployed personnel (UDPs) at Camp Hansen don’t have it that easy. UDPs like Cody are on six-month tours to fill certain needs. In Cody’s case, that means 24-hour shifts every other day guarding the base gate.

“They don’t bring their big-screen TV and they don’t bring their family,” Zielinski said. “They’re living in the most Spartan of barracks. Most of them don’t connect Internet service … knowing they’re only here a short period of time. They are the people that – more so than anyone else – are the prime candidates for the USO services we offer, and they’re the ones who are most appreciative because they really don’t have an alternative.”

To help ease the situation, USO Camp Hansen provides plenty of entertainment, distractions and links back home. USO Camp Hansen used a recent $5,000 grant from the American Women’s Welfare Association on Okinawa to purchase 10 iPads, which troops can use to Skype with their families.

And one of those iPads was waiting for Cody when Ramos – the volunteer who’d sacrificed sleep to keep the center open all night – welcomed him back to the USO a little after midnight on Thanksgiving Day.

Fourteen hours behind Okinawa time, Samantha Thomas was getting to the hospital to deliver their third child. But there was still some waiting and negotiating to do.

“I kept talking to my wife on the phone, and, once 2 a.m. came around, then I had to wait another two hours for the baby to be here because they had [complications with another patient],” Cody said.

When it was finally time for Samantha to go to the delivery room, Cody had to clear one more hurdle. Citing hospital protocol, one of Samantha’s nurses told the couple they wouldn’t be allowed to take the laptop into the room. Faced with the possibility of missing the birth after coming so close, Cody did enough negotiating to push the decision up to Samantha’s doctor, who allowed the call to continue.

Finally, at 4:30 a.m. Okinawa time, Cody welcomed his third daughter – Summer Faith – into the world. The medical staff even took a photo of Samantha holding their new daughter in one arm and a laptop with Cody’s live-from-Okinawa face on it in another to commemorate the moment.

“Being on Skype with her here, it was such an emotional [moment] for both of us,” said Cody, who will meet his new daughter in person when he returns to his home base of Twentynine Palms, Calif., in April. “She didn’t think I’d be able to do it because (1) I had duty that night and (2) because the nurse told her she couldn’t take the computer back there, but the doctor [allowed it].”

Cody was back in the USO center just hours later, showing Zielinski and his fellow Marines pictures of his new baby.

“Everybody just wanted to help out,” Zielinski said. “We were really lucky that everything worked out as it did.”

* * *

(Photo courtesy of the Thomases.) 

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