Army Spc. John Luckey and his wife, Kerry, had no plans for sixth baby when he came home from a year's duty in Iraq. But there was romance in the air when they went on a vacation to see the giant redwoods.
Nine months later, Kerry Luckey gave birth to a daughter, EmLee Rae.
Apparently many military couples at Fort Campbell celebrated like the Luckeys when about 20,000 soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division came home last fall, because the military hospital here is now seeing a baby boom.
"You go around town and there are these big bellies everywhere. It's kind of fun to have all the babies around," said Kerry Luckey, who lives in Clarksville, near this Army post.
A temporary increase in births is not uncommon after soldiers return, but the boom this year is the biggest the post has seen in decades, said Lt. Col. Diane Adams, chief of women's health at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital.
The base is seeing "a lot more folks with family on the mind when they returned this time around," Adams said.
About 19,000 soldiers returned to Fort Stewart, Georgia, in the first months of 2006, and the hospital there saw a baby boom nine months later, delivering more than 100 babies a month, compared with 76 per month the previous year. Fort Hood in Texas saw deliveries peak at 289 in March 2006, well above the 213 average.
Lt. Trena Buggs, a labor and delivery nurse at Blanchfield, got pregnant herself not long after her husband, a Special Forces soldier, returned from Iraq in early 2006, and she gave birth in May. She knew what to expect when the 101st Airborne came back between August and December of last year.
"We knew that any time the soldiers are deployed, we knew the one thing they liked to do best when they come home is get a little bit of loving," she said.
In many cases, the father was back in Iraq by the time the baby arrived; many soldiers have heard their children's first cries via cell phone.
The baby boom at Fort Campbell is expected to continue through December, which also happens to be when three units from the 101st Airborne are set to return to Iraq. Another three units are scheduled to leave for Afghanistan early next year.
About 20 percent of the new mothers at Fort Campbell are active-duty soldiers themselves, Adams said.
New mothers are exempt from deployment for four months. But after that, husband-and-wife soldiers have to arrange for child care if they are both sent overseas. Often, relatives or close friends take care of the children.
Many soldiers at Fort Campbell have been sent to Iraq three times already. Back-to-back tours can play havoc with family planning.
"When you're in your first deployment, if you haven't started your family already, you think, `Well, we'll go ahead and do that after the first one,"' Adams said. "They've put it off long enough, and now they want to get going on getting the family situation straightened out."