Morgan Brittany Rihel's first official act on this planet was to get her father out of a war zone and onto a plane back home, where he belonged.
Seaman Daniel H. Rihel, 23, of Glen Burnie, arrived at the Harbor Medical Center bedside of his wife, Shelley J. Rihel, at 6 a.m. yesterday after a 32-hour emergency flight from his Red Sea post.
Cradling and admiring the baby girl in his arms, he vowed never to leave his family again.
"I'm 23 years old, and I can sit here and tell you, I'll have my two girls for the rest of my life," he said.
Not bad for a little girl now barely four days old.
The story of the Rihels' reunion began last Friday, when Shelley went into labor with her first baby. Her husband was 7,000 miles away, a welder aboard the USS Seattle, an auxiliary oiler in the Red Sea.
Shelley, 20, said that her husband has been away for 11 months during the three years they've been married.
Daniel was sent to join the Seattle two weeks before Thanksgiving. He had been stationed at Naval Weapons Station Earl, at Colt's Neck, N.J., for a year. Rihel had been scheduled to return on Valentine's Day, a week before his baby was due.
But then the Navy changed course, and told him he'd go home "when the thing's over," he said. Maybe April or May, they said.
Last Friday, he called home to see how Shelley was doing, and learned she had gone to the hospital in labor. Desperate, he called the hospital collect.
"It was harder not being here for this than it was for the whole
war," Daniel said. But he resigned himself to it.
At the hospital, though, things were not going well. After Shelley had endured two days of fruitless labor, Dr. Michael Barnett, Shelley's obstetrician, decided he would have to perform an emergency Caesarean.
Morgan arrived at 5:57 p.m. Saturday, in perfect health, one of 6,658 babies born so far to servicemen in the gulf, according to the Red Cross, which delivers the news. She weighed in at 8 pounds 10 ounces and 21 inches. ("She's going to be a model," her mother said.)
Barnett then began trying without success to fax word to the Seattle. Finally, he got through to the Red Cross, which eventually contacted the ship.
In the meantime, however, Daniel had called the hospital again to see how things were going, and was told his wife had delivered by Caesarean.
"I was real happy, but sad because of how far away I was," he said. The next day, he asked his superior officers if there was any way he could get home. "I felt I was more needed at home than there, 'cause everything was calming down."
Word got to the Seattle's Capt. C.W. Trafton, who told him to go ahead home to his family. "The biggest one I've got to thank for coming home was the captain," Rihel said.
At 5:30 Monday morning, local time, Rihel left the ship at Port Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, on the Red Sea. He was taken to a naval air station nearby and put aboard a Military Airlift Command plane headed for Sicily.
"All I flew with was the mail," he said. "I sat in a cargo net."
In Sicily, he got aboard a Hawaiian Airlines airliner chartered by the military, and flew to Naples, and then on to Scotland for refueling.
"I thought it was a dream," he recalled. "I thought I was going to wake up in my rack."
From Italy, he had called home again, so family members were there to meet his plane in Philadelphia at 3:25 a.m. yesterday morning. And from there, he was driven back to Baltimore.
By 6 a.m., after a shower and a change of clothes, he was beside his wife when she woke up. Morgan was already awake. And crying.
"She said, 'Mom, wake up. Dad's home,' " Rihel said. "I thought she was very beautiful. And she is."
Rihel has been given 15 days leave, plus another 15 if he needs it. That should about wrap up the war for him. His ship is due back in the states March 28.
Of the war, Rihel said, "I think . . . everything was done in the right manner. We owe [allied commander Norman] Schwarzkopf a lot, plus all the people over here who supported us."
He expects to be discharged June 26 and plans to move his family back to Glen Burnie, and will join the Naval Reserve. "I can't leave my family again," he said.
Morgan's grandparents are John and Jean Knaus, and Joseph and Billy Rihel, all of Glen Burnie.