This story first appeared on the March 2, 2017 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. Subscribe to see stories like this sooner and for stories that appear only in print. Call 316-540-0500.
By Sam Jack
When armed service members deploy overseas, there is no telling what major milestones they might miss the chance to witness, according to U.S. Army soldier Zach Shryock.
Shryock, a 2007 Cheney High School graduate, recently returned from his second deployment to Afghanistan.
“It’s not uncommon for a soldier to miss the birth of his child,” he said. “Every time a unit comes home, you will always see a big sign that says, ‘I have waited my whole life to meet you,’ with a mom, and a young baby in her arms.”
If not for a hasty change of flight plans and a hurried car ride across the Atlanta metro area, Shryock could have been one of those soldiers.
He made it to Piedmont Newnan Hospital, southwest of Atlanta, only 30 minutes before his wife, Brittany, gave birth to their first child, daughter Myra, on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Zach’s chain of command worked things out so he could return from his deployment by mid- or late February – in plenty of time for Brittany’s due date in mid-March.
A few days in advance of Myra’s earlier-than-expected birthday, Zach left Afghanistan and started his trek back to base at Fort Riley.
He spent a few days in Kuwait waiting for a flight back to the States, then flew to Turkey, then Germany, then a long flight to Baltimore.
After Zach landed in Baltimore, he got a call from Brittany.
“She says, ‘I think my water broke.’ I said, ‘OK, I’m heading to Charlotte, and I really can’t miss this flight. See what you figure out and let me know when I land,’” Zach said.
From Charlotte, Zach was slated to fly to Chicago, and then, finally, to the Manhattan Regional Airport near Fort Riley.
He had planned to participate in homecoming festivities at the base before joining his wife, who had been staying with her parents while she was pregnant and Zach was deployed.
While Zach flew over Virginia, Brittany drove to the hospital waited to see a doctor.
When his plane landed in Charlotte, Zach called Brittany again.
“He only had seconds to decide if he was going to get on his next flight to Chicago, because his flight from Baltimore was delayed,” Brittany said. “I had still not seen the doctor, but I felt like our baby girl was coming that day, so I told him to find a flight to ATL.”
Zach told the soldiers he was traveling with that he would not be at the welcome home party in Kansas.
With mother and daughter’s vital signs strong, Brittany and the hospital staff refrained from doing anything that would have tended to speed up the arrival of the baby.
“At this time, we received a call from Zach that his flight had been delayed due to a plane hitting a deer on the runway,” Brittany said. “After a while of waiting and holding (my) baby girl in for an hour and a half, I received a call from Zach saying that he had made it to Atlanta.”
A friend picked him up at the airport and rushed him to the hospital, where he was greeted at the door by its CEO. Hospital workers lined the halls to cheer.
“When I heard everyone clapping and yelling in the hallway, my eyes filled with tears,” Brittany said. “I knew my husband had made it home. It seemed like a dream when I saw him walk through the door.”
Baby Myra arrived five weeks early – the same number of weeks Zach’s commanders had shortened his deployment. At her one-week checkup, Myra was happy and healthy, the parents reported.
“The entire thing was the most amazing, crazy, stressful, intense, fulfilling thing that I have ever gone through in my life,” Zach said.