A soldier watches the birth of his daughter from thousands of miles away

[From Salt Lake City’s Deseret News]

[Image: Cecilia Rea kisses her newborn baby Amelie while talking with her husband Senior Airman Geiber Rea through Skype while he is in Afgahnistan in American Fork Wednesday.]

A soldier watches the birth of his daughter from thousands of miles away

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010

AMERICAN FORK — Geiber Rea soothed and encouraged his wife Cecilia throughout an induced labor Tuesday at American Fork Hospital.

From his perch at her bedside he witnessed the strain in her eyes and beaded perspiration on her forehead as she pushed the couple’s second daughter out into the world.

When it was all over, he reassuringly told Cecilia how well she had performed during the birth.

Geiber, though, did not perform the highly symbolic act often reserved for a newborn’s father — he didn’t cut the umbilical chord.

Because he couldn’t.

He was in Afghanistan.

As part of the U.S. Air Force Reserve 419th Fighter Wing’s Civil Engineer Squadron, Airman 1st Class Rea is stationed at Bagram Air Field near Kabul, Afghanistan. Separated by more than 7,000 miles, the Rea family used Skype to bring Geiber into the delivery room Tuesday.

He logged into his Skype account early Wednesday morning local time and, with a Webcam and computer set up in the delivery room, interfaced with Cecilia in real time as she gave birth in American Fork.

“I’m grateful for the technology we have today, the opportunity to see what’s happening on the other side of the world,” Geiber Rea said Wednesday from Afghanistan.

With the 10.5-hour time difference between Kabul and Utah, husband and wife shared one of the watershed events of their lives from different days on the calendar. At approximately 2 a.m. Wednesday in Afghanistan, Geiber witnessed a birth that will be recorded as having happened Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

“It was really different,” he said. “At some points I felt like I was there. It was overwhelming — lot of happiness and a little bit of sadness.”

As Skype changes the way military families do overseas deployment, gone are the days when a military dad deployed overseas sees his newborn child for the first time upon returning home.

Just a few years ago, e-mail was the technological apex of communication between most servicemen and their families. But now, the “new normal” for many of the men and women on deployment in the U.S. armed forces is frequent face-to-face video conferencing with family.

As Geiber Rea’s virtual presence in the delivery room illustrates, there are increasingly few moments and events in an airman or soldier’s life that must be missed on account of military obligations.

Plans to Skype the Tuesday birth didn’t materialize overnight, but were actually many months in the making.

On a Saturday morning in late July at the Salt Lake City International Airport, Cecilia Rea bid farewell to her husband.

Physically buttressed by extended family and their 5-year-old daughter, Geiber and Cecilia exuded a sense of peace and calm as they spoke to each other in hushed tones.

The deployment would last six months, but they had the consolation of knowing that Geiber’s parents and sisters live in Utah County close enough to the Rea residence in Spanish Fork to serve as on-call support.

By the time deployment rolled around the Rea clan had already made two critical decisions well in advance that ameliorated the sting of separation: to name the baby Amelie, and employ Skype at the hospital on the baby’s literal birthday.

For Geiber and Cecilia, knowing they would almost be together in the delivery room was enough to make being apart bearable.

“Thank goodness for technology,” Cecilia said Wednesday from the hospital. “It meant the world to me that he could, in a way, be there.”

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