Hardest-Hit Unit From Iraq War Deploys to Afghanistan, Leaving Families Behind

PHOTO: Pompilli watches birth via SkypePlayABC News
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For the past five months, a small team of ABC News producers has been embedded with the Marines of Lima Company and their families in Columbus, Ohio. Lima Company was the hardest-hit unit in the Iraq War five years ago -- in 2005, the unit lost 23 men and more than 40 were wounded.

Now, five years later, Lima Company has been called to serve again, deploying this time to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold, leaving their families behind. This time, so far, Lima has been safe.

"Not coming home is the biggest fear for everybody," said Sgt. Ken Pompilli, who is on his second deployment. "But we're all well-trained. We're all going to come home."

Marine's Wife Goes Into Early Labor

For Sgt. Pompilli, being away from his family has been especially difficult this time around. After having trouble conceiving a baby, the Pompillis decided to put it on the back burner, but as soon as they decided to put it off Melanie became pregnant.

That was before he left for Afghanistan in August. Like every first time father, Pompilli wanted to be there for Melanie during the pregnancy.

"I'm upset I won't be there for the birth," Pompilli said. " I just hope the baby is okay, that it's born healthy…. I'm hoping to at least be there with Skype on that day -- or pictures or anything so that I can actually see her. A phone call would be nice, but if I can actually see my daughter it will be fantastic."

On Thanksgiving Day, Pompilli got a surprise call -- his wife was going into labor a week early. "I'm nervous, I'm scared, I'm mad, I'm going through each and every emotion I can think of right now," Pompilli said.

With help from Cpl. Jason Walls, Pompilli turned his armored vehicle into a mobile communications center. With three laptops and a surprisingly steady Internet connection, they were able to see Melanie in the delivery room in Columbus, Ohio.

Baby Riley Is Born

For the next 17 hours, armed with Dr. Pepper and chocolate cookies, Pompilli remained by his wife's side, 7,000 miles away -- witnessing every contraction and every push via Skype.

On Facebook, he wrote: "Ken Pompilli is a bundle of emotions right now!!! I love you Melanie with all my heart!!!"

After 15 hours, Pompilli -- who was in constant contact with his family at the hospital -- was getting worried. "She's fully dilated. Her body is ready but the baby isn't. So it looks like they're possibly going to have to do a C-section to get her out….She hasn't eaten anything and she's kind of weak right now."

But the doctors decided to hold off on a C-section, instead encouraging an exhausted Melanie to keep trying.

"The suspense is killing me! Still a bundle of nerves. I love you Melanie!" Pompilli posted from his armored vehicle in Afghanistan.

Another hour, and then gradually the contractions began to come faster. Melanie summoned all her strength for the final push.

"Good job, sweetheart!" Pompilli said, his worried face projected on the large monitor in the hospital room. "Good job, baby."

And then suddenly, a baby's cry.

"You did it!" the nurse said.

"She's beautiful, Ken," said Melanie's mother, Jean Plunkett, holding up his daughter, Riley.

"Yup, she's beautiful," he said, tears streaming down his face. "Hi, Riley! You're beautiful, just like your mommy."

Little Riley will be five months old when her father comes home.

Deb Gregory contributed additional reporting.