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Before Bombs, a Birth

Mar 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

I just watched Army Specialist Oscar Barretto Jr. find out that he was a father. Little Oscar III. 7 pounds, 11 ounces. 20 inches. And very cute, his father tells me.
For a few hours each night, when we put our satellite dish up to feed our video, we’ve been attaching a phone and giving the soldiers five minutes each to call home. Some haven’t talked to their families since arriving here in January.
It’s a marvelous, moving thing to watch. And a bit Pavlovian. As soon as they hear the generator rumble, indicating the satellite dish is going up, the troops start to line up. In the brutal sun. In the freezing night. Even as a sandstorm bore down on us. They don’t move. When they get their turn, they sort of turn their backs on the line, put their heads down, cock them to one side and try to create a little private space to steal a private moment in the midst of these close, communal quarters.
Ten seconds into his call, Specialist Barretto let out a “whoop.” The rest of the soldiers started badgering him: “What happened? What happened?” After he told them, a huge cheer exploded across the quiet camp. Now even when I’m not in a war zone, I’m not exactly what you’d call “steely” when it comes to emotions. Wedding pictures, baby videos, certain reruns of “The Wonder Years,” they can all knock me for a loop. But watching Specialist Barretto sent me over the edge.
His news came on the eve of breaking camp and heading for the border. Everyone was feeling a little tight. Ready to break the long, mind-numbing routine of training, but making acquaintance-many for the first time-with the uncertainty, anxiety and apprehension of approaching combat.
I made a deal with myself to try to avoid thinking too much out here. Save the deep thoughts for when I get back home. But there it was-laid bare in the Kuwaiti desert. The pure joy of birth. The pure dread of death.
Whatever I see in the next few weeks, watching Spc. Barretto’s phone call will remain among the most indelible images. Happy birthday, Oscar III. You should have seen your dad’s face when he found out you were here.