Soldier home, meets daughter for first time

December 24, 2011 6:57:50 PM PST
Saturday marked a happy holiday homecoming for Army Sgt. Matt Vega, one of the last soldiers to leave Iraq when the U.S. pulled out last week.

He met his first daughter for the first time Saturday. Vega, 23, got home just in time to spend the holidays with his family.

He was greeted at O'Hare Airport Saturday and then escorted to his parents' home in Carol Stream. Vega just got about the best Christmas present possible.

"It's amazing. It really is amazing - it's special," said Vega.

"He's meeting his daughter for the first time today, and that right there is enough to bring tears to your eyes," said Gil Vollarth of the USO.

Leah was born two weeks before her due date on November 14th while Matt was completing his third tour of duty. She only weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces. Matt witnessed part of her birth on a laptop connection in his barracks.

"He saw her on Skype. She was an emergency C-section. He saw her all before and all after. Right in the recovery room, he got to see her right away," said wife Stephanie Knutson.

The couple found out they were expecting in April while Matt was training in California. The Glenbard North High School sweethearts bought a house in El Paso, Texas where Matt was stationed before he was deployed, but Stephanie moved back in with her parents for the reminder of her high-risk pregnancy.

"This is really incredible, to see him holding Leah for the first time after being with her for a month," said Tiffany Vega, Matt's sister.

The family says Matt's early return is nothing short of a miracle considering he was not supposed to be back until early spring.

"Didn't know it was going to really happen. It's a miracle. It's a special day today. Best Christmas I've ever had," said father Tom Knutson.

"Until they said he was on that airplane leaving Kuwait, you don't really know. Once he's on that airplane, you know he's coming home. You're so relieved," said mother Becky Knutson.

Once here, the sergeant got a hero's welcome from the Patriot Guard.

"It's Christmas Eve, and there's a lot of soldiers that aren't going to be here for Christmas Eve, so being able to thank one is sort of like being able to thank them all," said Tim Redmond, ride captain with the Patriot Guard.

While some of his thoughts remained with his fellow soldiers, Vega was finally home.

Besides spending most of his time just admiring and enjoying his daughter, Vega says he just got to get one of his favorite things - a Lou Malnati's pepperoni deep dish pizza with the butter crust.

The couple will head back to the home in Texas after the first of the year. Matt is a career soldier, so he will get his next assignment then.

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