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New York National Guard Airman helps deliver Afghan baby

New York Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Scarlett Yates, assigned to the 106th Air Rescue Wing, sorts through donated books for Afghan children at the temporary medical isolation dormitory at Liberty Village, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Sept. 27, 2021.  Yates helped deliver an Afghan baby at the base Sept. 7.

New York Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Scarlett Yates, assigned to the 106th Air Rescue Wing, sorts through donated books for Afghan children at the temporary medical isolation dormitory at Liberty Village, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Sept. 27, 2021.  Yates helped deliver an Afghan baby at the base Sept. 7.

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – The woman’s foot pressed into the top of the Airman’s collarbone where it connected at her right shoulder.

In the Airman’s other hand was a cell phone hoisted straight into the air. All ears in the room strained to hear the Pashto translator on the other end.

The nurse’s words to the Airman when she arrived at the hospital still hung in the air.

“Are you cool with blood and guts and stuff?”

“Today I am. Here we go.”

Staff Sgt. Scarlett Yates had never witnessed a birth before, let alone helped deliver a baby. She’s in logistics, after all.

“Normally, I’m in the warehouse moving boxes or processing something on our supply system.”

Yates, a New York Air National Guard logistics specialist assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing at Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, volunteered to support Liberty Village at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, in support of Operation Allies Welcome.

The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing temporary housing to at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees. Liberty Village is supporting about 9,300 Afghans.

Yates was working in a facility for patients in quarantine for infectious diseases when a pregnant woman and her husband arrived one evening.

“They had gone to the hospital because she was due,” Yates said. “She started having contractions and she tested positive for COVID.”

Not dilated enough to deliver, the hospital transported her to the quarantine facility expecting her to deliver the next day. Yates said the woman’s medical paperwork was misplaced during the transport and her medical history was relayed via a translator when they arrived. The husband could understand some English, but the woman could not.

An hour later, her water broke.

The medics arrived on the scene to transport her back to the hospital, and the couple asked if Yates could come with them.

“They were more comfortable with me because I knew their medical history,” Yates said. “Since I did, and since the family was more comfortable with me because they now have known me a little bit more, I ended up going with them.”

Yates rode in the ambulance with the woman, and her husband rode in a vehicle behind.

The hospital didn’t have a Pashto translator available and needed to call Liberty Village for a translator.

It was a busy night at the hospital, with an emergency and two other babies being born around the same time, Yates said.

“Because I had to be in there to hold my phone for the translation because they didn’t have anyone that could speak Pashto, I ended up assisting with the birth,” Yates said. “I asked them, ‘What do you need me to help with? How do I need to be of assistance? Just tell me, just give me a job so I can do it.’”

The baby girl was born at around 3:30 a.m. Sept. 7, one of six born since Liberty Village opened.

“At one point, they asked if dad wanted to cut the umbilical cord,” Yates said. “Dad was OK, didn’t want to cut the umbilical cord, so they actually let me.”

Yates said the experience bonded her with this new family.

“It is a very cool process being a part of someone being born,” she said.

For all Afghan guests in the facility Yates worked in, the experience is one of building trust and learning the personalities and preferences of the families staying there.

“You get to know them. You get to know their story, what they left behind, what they’re looking forward to, what their citizenship status is,” she said. “You really have that bond. You really know them and what they’re about.”

The family moved from the quarantine facility back to their temporary lodging this week.

The babies of Liberty Village begin their lives surrounded by hope for the future. Signs in Dari and Pashto posted around the community read, “Better Every Day!” For this young family, that could not be more true.

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