Marine deployed to Afghanistan stuns daughters with surprise visit
By STEVEN SPEARIE | The State Journal-Register | Associated Press | Published: January 19, 2019
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Sisters Brookelyn and Addisyn Shanle squealed with delight when they saw their dad, Dustin Shanle, walk into the room at HSHS St. John's Children's Hospital on Jan. 8.
After all, he had flown halfway around the world to see the newest addition to their family, Callie Grace, who was born on New Year's Day and about seven weeks premature.
Asked how she felt when she saw him, Addisyn, 7, had an emoji-type response.
"Uh, OMG," she admitted. "Very surprised."
"I was very surprised," added Brookelyn, 9, "because Mommy said Grandma Kathy and Papa Dan (Jones, Brookelyn's grandparents) were coming, not Daddy."
Dustin Shanle, a chief warrant officer two in the U.S. Marine Corps, had been deployed to Helmut Province, Afghanistan, on Oct. 13, where he was on a train, advise and assist mission with the Afghan National Army, mainly with military vehicle maintenance.
He was allowed to end his deployment several months early after getting word that Danielle — the two met as teenagers at Mount Pulaski High School — delivered at 33 weeks.
A hospital nurse said that Callie weighs 4 pounds, 4 ounces, up three ounces from her birth weight and that the family might be able to leave the hospital in the next day or two.
Tuesday's reunion was joyous, but also a bit of relief for Dustin, who began his trip out of Afghanistan on a Friday, then on the following Monday and Tuesday flew the last leg of the trip from Kuwait to Germany and then to Chicago, where Danielle's parents picked him and drove him straight to St. John's.
"I was getting a lot of pictures and videos (via FaceTime and iMessaging), but (Callie) definitely looks a lot tinier in person, but still just as cute, which is the important part," he said.
"(Under other circumstances), it would have been June, July or August until he was home," pointed out Danielle.
"But it's today!" whispered Addisyn.
Danielle, Brookelyn and Addisyn had come back to Mount Pulaski for a baby shower and to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 18 from Jacksonville, North Carolina, where they own a house close to Camp Lejeune, where Dustin is stationed.
Danielle's father had planned to drive the three back to North Carolina on Jan. 2, but on New Year's Eve, Danielle developed complications and was rushed to Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln before being transported to St. John's.
She delivered Callie on New Year's afternoon.
"It was a little earlier than I had anticipated, so I was a little nervous," admitted Danielle, who was a fourth-grade school teacher back in North Carolina. "If she hadn't come early, (Dustin) wouldn't be home.
"Having him home now means everything to me. It's hard to go through the pregnancy without your husband being able to feel the baby kick. All the little fun things you get with pregnancy, he wasn't there for.
"I can't wait for her to open her eyes and see her daddy for the first time."
"Being away, it's not the best feeling in the world," admitted Dustin. "But it comes with the job and you just have to deal with it."
Dustin grew up in Cornland and the two met in high school. They reconnected several years ago and were married in St. Louis in 2017.
Dede Stewart, the nurse manager in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. John's Children's, said Callie was doing so well because Danielle had excellent prenatal care in North Carolina.
"Thirty-three week babies can go one way or the other," said Stewart. "Callie's had a wonderful course. She was in oxygen for just a little bit. Her big thing now is keeping herself warm and learning to eat and learning to grow at the same time.
"She was a good size for a 33-weeker and she's gained three ounces in a week. That's amazing, so she's doing really, really well."
In a twist of fate, Stewart is also from Mount Pulaski and was a flower girl in Danielle's parents' wedding in Lincoln in 1977. In turn, Danielle was a flower girl in Stewart's wedding in Mount Pulaski in 1994.
Kathy Jones said it was Danielle's idea to surprise Brookelyn and Addisyn. To greet Dustin at St. John's Children's, hospital officials planted small American flags around a garden at the entrance.
"I'm extremely proud of what (Dustin) is doing," said Jones. "I told him, 'Those flags are for you.' He said he didn't want the glory and that there are still a lot (of American soldiers left in Afghanistan).
"I praise them all."
Also in the room Tuesday were Danielle's maternal grandmother, Georgia Stoltz of Lincoln, and her maternal uncle, Tom Stoltz and his wife, Rini, of Bloomington.
Dustin had one more family member to greet — June, the family's Weimaraner, who also made the trip to Springfield.
"June's going to be happy," promised Addisyn.
"Yeah, he's going to be jumping on daddy!" said Brookelyn.