CARTHAGE, N.Y. — Sgt. John L. Diehl’s unannounced return home from deployment in Afghanistan was flipped around after his wife gave birth to a daughter in the bathroom of their Fort Drum home only hours before his plane landed locally.
Instead of an excited return home, he found himself chasing his wife, Myria M., to a pair of area hospitals to meet his new daughter, Johanna.
“She surprised me,” Sgt. Diehl said. “It totally backfired.”
The Diehls, of Kingston, Okla., told their story to the Times on Thursday afternoon in their delivery room at Carthage Area Hospital.
The infantryman from the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, received special permission to return from the country’s Paktika Province to be with his wife, who was 39 weeks into her pregnancy.
With the expected baby in a breech position, there was a concern that Mrs. Diehl would need a Caesarean section. With no other family in the area to watch their three other children — daughters Harley M., 6, and Emma S., 1, and son Morgan A., 4 — Sgt. Diehl said he felt he needed to be home to support his wife.
He admitted to thinking up a few ways to surprise her, including being taken to his home in a delivery box for his family to open.
Without telling his wife of his return, he boarded a flight heading home with soldiers from the division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team that landed locally about 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Just before 7 that morning, Mrs. Diehl had finished feeding Emma, who turned 1 Wednesday, and had taken a shower when she felt labor pains. After calling an ambulance and other Army wives, she realized she would not be able to make it to the hospital in time.
“All of a sudden she came up,” she said.
Squatting at a toilet, she delivered Johanna, a healthy 7 pounds and 17 inches long, catching her and holding her in a towel, as medical crews and her friends entered the home moments later. She then was taken to Carthage Area Hospital.
Unaware of the ordeal his wife had just faced, Sgt. Diehl turned on his phone while on the runway of Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield to find 17 messages from his mother about his wife. With the help of customs officials at the airfield, he was moved to the front of the line and was met by a member of the brigade’s rear detachment.
Returning home, he had enough time to have a quick reunion with his children, drop off his bags and rush off to the hospital. Before he left, he admitted to looking into the bathroom where Johanna was delivered.
“It looked like a chemical attack,” Sgt. Diehl said.
Initially traveling to Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, he was told that his wife was instead at Carthage Area Hospital. Driving between the two locations, Sgt. Diehl said, he hoped his wife and child were all right. The sergeant credited his Army training for helping him keep his focus during the stress of finding his wife.
Though she had received small tip-offs of her husband’s return, because of a call from AT&T when his cellphone was reactivated and by the hospitals when Sgt. Diehl was first looking for her, Mrs. Diehl said she still was amazed to see him.
“I was all in shock with everything,” she said.
Sgt. Diehl, who hadn’t been told of the baby’s sex during the deployment, said he learned he had a third daughter when he saw his new child’s pink clothing.
Mrs. Diehl said her new daughter’s name was a female take on her husband’s name and also reflected his German heritage.
At one day old, Johanna has a chin that resembles her older sister Emma’s, the Diehls said.
Sgt. Diehl also is home in time for another special occasion: he and his wife will celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary Aug. 26.