Soldier’s secret odyessy ends with surprise reunion
Newborn baby brings Army reservist home from Middle East for Father’s Day
Jay Thorne isn't complaining because his wife, Amy, didn't give him a gift for his first Father's Day as a dad.
Amy had a good excuse. She expected her soldier husband to be halfway across the world, attempting to keep U.S. Army trucks running in the triple-digit desert heat of Kuwait and Iraq. And the couple shared a very special gift with the healthy arrival of 8-pound, 2-ounce Lexi Marie three days before Father's Day.
"I didn't want a gift," Jay said holding his young daughter. "What could be better than this?"
The arrival of the couple's first child by Caesarean section last Thursday provided enough urgency to earn Jay a so-called once-in-a-lifetime leave from his military assignment halfway across the world.
Jay is a member of a Gardner-based 129th U.S. Army reserve transportation company that left for the Persian Gulf April 28. Based in northern Kuwait, the unit plies the dangerous highways of Iraq, hauling tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and other military equipment.
Jay left for the Middle East knowing Amy was expecting in June. He found out in the last month the baby girl would be delivered by C-section June 12 at St. John Hospital in Leavenworth.
"We had talked about a C-section (before he left), but we were kind of unsure about it," Jay said.
Jay and his father, Jim Thorne, of Tonganoxie, began to talk about him returning home for the birth. Amy and Jay's mother, Dee, were left in the dark because of uncertainty whether the trip could be arranged.
His father and his best friend's mother, Lisa Ney of Overland Park, worked on the trip from this end, arranging airline tickets that would get Jay home in time for the birth. His father, the owner of the family tree service for which Jay works, paid for the round-trip from Kuwait City.
Meanwhile in Kuwait, Jay's commanding officer. Lt. Cedrick Clark, cut through the Army's red tape.
"If it wasn't for my dad, Lisa and Lt. Clark, I wouldn't have been able to do it," he said. "They are the ones who made it possible."
They also made it possible to surprise Amy, who wasn't told of Jay's leave even when it was scheduled.
"At that point, I had taken it so far I just went ahead and stuck with what I had," he said.
Even with the details finalized, every leg of the 23-hour odyssey that included stops in London and Chicago had to fall into place if Jay was to make it back for the birth of his child early Thursday morning.
"It was pretty much a race," Jay said. "Fortunately, I didn't have any long layovers or delays."
Jay's father picked him up at Kansas City International Airport shortly before midnight Wednesday. After a visit of several hours with his mother, Dee Thorne, Jay arrived at the Eudora home of in-laws, Sandra and Derald Price, for an early morning reunion.
"I had no idea," Amy said. "I was thinking about the phone call I was supposed to be getting. It was like a dream come true.
"He could plan because of the C-section. That's how he got back so smooth, I think. It's nice having him at home and sharing the experience."
Friends and family said Lexi Marie looked like her, Amy said. But the mother said the baby was her daddy's girl.
"Every time he picks her up when she's crying, she stops instantly," Amy said. "He's so good with her. He tries to make me sit down and do nothing. He's on the ball."
Having Jay home gave her comfort, too, Amy said. For a few days, at least, she can put aside her concerns about Jay's safety.
"I do worry," she said. "I know things aren't settled over there."
Jay admitted his job had its dangers. His unit doesn't take the highway familiar to viewers of the March and April military campaign from Basra to Baghdad.
"There's too much sniping near Basra and Nasiriyah," he said. "We take a longer route. But it's safer. It's still pretty dangerous."
And although keeping the trucks running in desert heat was a challenge -- Basra's forecast high for Tuesday was 113 degrees -- the unit rarely traveled at night because that required an armed military police escort, Jay said.
His battalion was told not to interact with Iraqis, Jay said. But he said they heard mixed messages shouted in broken English from roadside natives.
"Some are friendly," he said. "Some say, 'Go home. Get out of here.' It's kind of mixed emotions."
Jay has to be back with his unit Saturday, Lexi Marie's original due date. Leaving his wife and child was going to be difficult, he said, especially with no clear idea of when he'd be able to rejoin them.
"I've heard anywhere from August to a few years," he said.
Amy, too, dreaded Jay's departure. But she was thankful for an unexpected eight days she and Jay got to share.
"I'm grateful for the short time he is here," Amy said. "I must say I'm pretty fortunate that he was able to come home at all."