Alex and Katie Marshall hold their newborn daughter, Katie Jo. Alex, a solider with the U.S. Army stationed in Afghanistan, arrived in Michigan only hours before Katie gave birth. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)
Alex and Katie Marshall hold their newborn daughter, Katie Jo. Alex, a solider with the U.S. Army stationed in Afghanistan, arrived in Michigan only hours before Katie gave birth. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Archived Story

Local soldier arrived from Afghanistan hours before birth of his first child

Published 9:20am Thursday, July 17, 2014

Alex Marshall is used to working under pressure.

Serving two tours overseas in Afghanistan with the Army, Marshall spent countless hours diffusing unexploded ordinances and improvised explosive devices, where one mistake could have lethal consequences.

Two weeks ago, on June 30, when he received a phone call that his wife Katie had just entered labor, though, no amount of training or experience could quell his nervous rush to be by her side to witness the birth of their first child.

Nor did the fact that he had to travel across four states, from Buffalo, New York to Kalamazoo, to do so.

“I was dreading the thought that I might not make it in time,” Marshall said. “I made it almost 7,000 miles across the world, and I’m going miss it by only 300 miles?”

Only a few hours prior, Marshall had arrived back in the U.S. from Afghanistan, after the Army gave him permission to take leave and be with Katie for her due date. However, they originally expected her to deliver on July 5, giving him plenty of time to make his way from the standard debriefing process in Fort Drum back to Michigan.

“It wasn’t how I expected my homecoming to go,” Marshall said.

Despite the heavy storms that were blowing across the East Coast and Midwest, Marshall winded his way through the highways and back roads to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. He finally arrived at 4 a.m. after less than 12 hours on the road, arriving just a few hours before Katie gave birth to their baby daughter, Katie Jo.

“I remember him walking in with his uniform still on, carrying a dozen roses,” Katie said. “I was still smiling at that point.”

The couple is used to overcoming the challenges caused by Alex’s service to his country. The two had only been dating a short while before the Gobles-native enlisted in the military in 2009. The two have spent long periods physically separated from one another, with Alex serving in Fort Hood and Afghanistan while Katie went to school at Ferris State University and Indiana University to study optometry.

“We married two years ago, but we’ve never actually lived together,” Katie said.

Over the last five years, Alex has had only 150 days on leave to actually spend with his beloved. During the times of active duty, though, the two kept in touch via regular video calls, they said.

“We like Skype, Skype has been a good thing,” Katie said.

However, even technology couldn’t change the fact that Alex had missed several important moments while on duty, such as both of Katie’s graduation ceremonies. The two had initially planned on him missing the birth of their child as well, before Alex had received word that the Army would allow him to return home shortly
before her due date.

“It was basically a miracle,” Katie said. “A lot of things had to work out for it to happen and they did.”

While Alex initially had apprehensions about leaving his unit behind overseas, several members of his squad told him there was no way he wouldn’t want to be there for his child’s first moments in the world.

“When I saw my daughter with my own eyes, I knew I made the right choice,” Alex said.

Next week, Alex is returning to Fort Drum to serve the remaining few months of his enlistment, though this time Katie and their daughter will be joining him. After he is discharged in October, the two plan on moving back to the area, where Katie will serve as a part-time optometrist at the office of AK Montgomery in Dowagiac.

In the meantime though, the three members of the Marshall family are simply enjoying the fact they are all together, at last.

“We get to eat dinner together, go to church together, all for the first time,” Katie said. “We’re enjoying a lot of the little things that I think other people take for granted.”

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