Tamika Dupree watches as her husband, Petty Officer 3rd Class Gerald Duprees holds his newborn daughter, Aiyana, for the first time upon his return to Yokosuka Naval Base.

Tamika Dupree watches as her husband, Petty Officer 3rd Class Gerald Duprees holds his newborn daughter, Aiyana, for the first time upon his return to Yokosuka Naval Base. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Having a baby is a big deal and can be a frightening situation. Same with participating in war.

Both events occurring at the same time can cause more than a little stress for a young couple.

“It was very scary,” said Tamika Dupree, 19, mother of 10-week-old Aiyana and wife of Petty Officer 3rd Class Gerald Dupree. “I was terrified the night before I had her. I was so nervous, and anticipating just having her, and having her without him here.”

Gerald Dupree, a 23-year-old member of the USS Kitty Hawk’s air department who has been based at Yokosuka for three years, and returned to the base Tuesday after participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“With him gone, it made everything much harder,” she said. “There are so many administrative things that have to be done. I had to be in so many places, but you do what you have to do,” said the new mom and former U.S. Army soldier who joined her husband in Japan six months ago.

In the months before the deployment, Tamika Dupree said her husband attended every doctor’s appointment and stayed intensely involved with her through the pregnancy.

“He would have been there every moment,” she said. “He was pretty upset about [not being there]. It hit him pretty hard.”

For months, the expectant father developed that new-baby-coming mind-set. Excitement and anticipation ruled his days. Then, for him and about 5,000 other sailors, it was off to war.

“It sucked,” Gerald Dupree said.

“It was difficult, and it made me very angry … so angry,” the proud pop said, holding his daughter and kissing her cheeks for the first time.

“There were times while we were gone that I just had to get away from my guys, and get off somewhere by myself because it would kind of get to me. I didn’t want to take it out on the other guys in my department.”

The birth of his first child presented a dilemma:

“Which one do I hug first when I get off the ship?” he asked as the ship made its way home. “If I hug my wife, will she say, ‘Don’t you want to hug the baby for the first time?’ If I hug the baby first, will my wife say, ‘What, you didn’t miss me?’”

“So, I wrote her an e-mail and told her to just hold up the baby so that I can hug ’em both at the same time.”

It worked out nicely. Holding little Aiyana in her arms, Tamika Dupree began to bounce with excitement as she saw her husband approaching. He began to walk faster. There was a group hug, and simultaneously a long-awaited kiss.

While just days from Yokosuka, the new dad expressed some concerns.

“I just try and think about how I’ll react in certain situations, and think about what I’m going to do once I get home and really am a father,” he said.

Fortunately, he had seen his baby daughter in pictures, both via e-mail and snail mail. On the day she was born, the Kitty Hawk’s commanding officer called Gerald Dupree on the ship’s phone system to give him the good news.

Tamika Dupree felt additional anxiety after giving birth, knowing her husband was in harm’s way.

“It was the scariest feeling that I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. “I was just hoping that he would be safe and make it home to see his daughter at least one time.”

But it was clear that for now, all is well in the Dupree family.

“I was kind of scared at first,” Gerald Dupree said. “I didn’t know what to expect, because, I mean, she’s my first child,” he said.

“But she’s just so beautiful.”

— Joe Giordono contributed to this report.

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