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Baby brings Navy navigator home early from war zone

The Feagles family is together again at University of Washington hospital Wednesday, after VAQ-141 Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Feagles was able to leave the USS Roosevelt early due to complications with wife Karen’s fifth pregancy. From left to right: Jerry Feagles, Cailin, 5, Karen, Jonathan, 14 (in back), Patrick, 7, and Lauren, 12.   - Marcie Miller / staff photo
The Feagles family is together again at University of Washington hospital Wednesday, after VAQ-141 Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Feagles was able to leave the USS Roosevelt early due to complications with wife Karen’s fifth pregancy. From left to right: Jerry Feagles, Cailin, 5, Karen, Jonathan, 14 (in back), Patrick, 7, and Lauren, 12.
— image credit: Marcie Miller / staff photo

While Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Feagles waited with his squadron, the VAQ-141“Shadowhawks,” aboard the USS Roosevelt in the Mediterranean for war to start, his wife, Karen Feagles, was doing some waiting of her own.

She has been in the University of Washington hospital in Seattle for the last month, trying not to deliver the couple’s fifth child.

Feagles’ doctor advised she take up residence at the hospital, which has an excellent high-risk obstetrics ward, until she delivers, which should occur in about another month.

With four kids at home, the grandparents have provided continuous support. Karen Feagles’ mother-in-law Pat Feagles, mother Elaine Kline, father Al Mers and stepmother Carmen Mers have taken turns helping out over the last two and a half months.

“It’s hard to be there for them (the kids) when I’m not there,” she said Wednesday from her hospital bed.

Lt. Cmdr. Feagles had been on deployment this time since Jan. 6, and he was due to leave the ship in another month when his tour at NAS Whidbey ended. Because of his wife’s condition, he was allowed to come home early, even as the deadline for President Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein ticked closer.

With more than 2,000 sailors from Whidbey deployed there will undoubtedly be many fathers missing births and other firsts. Feagles said there is at least one other squadron member who is expecting a baby soon, but he won’t be able to come home for the birth.

Feagles was looking a little bleary-eyed Wednesday morning at the hospital. But then, 30 hours of traveling to get from the Mediterranean to Seattle does that.

The couple’s four children were looking bright-eyed though, glad to have their dad home. As their mom sat up in her hospital bed with brightly printed sheets, the soft sound of their new brother’s heartbeat could be heard from the monitor strapped around her waist. Feagles sat on a wide window seat, with room for little Cailin to snuggle on him lap.

Feagles was glad to be home, and recounted some of what he had missed.

In the past few months he has missed a trombone solo by Jonathan, 14, a straight A report card from Lauren, 12, several trips from the tooth fairy for Patrick, 7, and a lot of growth by the youngest, Cailin, 5. Feagles estimated that in all his deployments he has missed 28 months of Patrick’s young life. Patrick and Cailin sleep with pictures of their dad under their pillows.

He has been able to come home for every birth, but he was never able to stay long. For Patrick’s birth, he was home just two days.

Feagles said being away from the family and missing the everyday events is the hardest part of deployment, but it’s something the family has come to accept.

“I’ve lost track of the birthdays I’ve missed,” he said. Lauren helpfully pointed out he had missed two of hers.

While Feagles is glad to be back with his family in Oak Harbor, it was hard to leave his “other” family, the Shadowhawks.

“Professionally it was disappointing to not be there at this time, “ he said.

His departure also comes at the end of his Prowler career.

“It was kind of sad to think it might have been the last time I flew in a Prowler,” Feagles said. He is a navigator, and as an operations officer he is third in command of the squadron.

If Feagles had completed this sea duty tour while on base, there would have been a festive atmosphere, but with the Roosevelt poised for war, the crew made do with pizza and non-alcoholic beer.

The entire Feagles family, with new baby Thomas Clay, will leave for England in about three months. Feagles has been assigned to a staff position on a NATO base near London for his shore duty tour. For the next three years the family will be together.

That’s enough time for the seven-member Feagles family to be together for at least three Christmases, and 21 birthdays.

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