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Archie Ingersoll, Published January 02 2014

Year of firsts: ND Guard member's first child born while he was on deployment

Our lives are filled with firsts: some blissful, some tragic, some miraculous. These experiences often make great reads. That’s why The Forum recently put out a call to readers to share their firsts. In the coming days, we’ll be telling a handful of these stories. If you have a noteworthy first – your first love, first North Dakota winter, first hole-in-one – there’s still time to send it to news@forumcomm.com.

BISMARCK – Just a week after Spc. Bryan Moch volunteered for a mission in Guantanamo Bay, he received some surprising, life-changing news.

His girlfriend of 1½ years was pregnant. The baby would arrive while he was deployed to the base in Cuba as a military policeman with the North Dakota National Guard.

Moch, 24, wasn’t able to back out of his 10-month commitment, so he made sure his girlfriend, Kim Larson, 23, was as comfortable as possible.

“I was basically just trying to leave on good terms,” he said. “I did the best while I was home to help her out.”

Moch joined the Guard a couple of years after finishing high school in his hometown of Hazelton. In 2010, he went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and returned to North Dakota to join the Bismarck detachment.

He left for Cuba in October 2012 with 30 other guardsmen in the 191st MP Company. It was his first deployment, and the birth of his first baby was just months away.

Moch said his mission in Guantanamo Bay, where suspected terrorists are jailed, involved “detainee operations.” Beyond that, he wasn’t at liberty to talk about it.

As Larson’s pregnancy progressed, the couple shared messages over Facebook, occasionally talked on the phone and exchanged letters in the mail. The Internet connection at the base was spotty, and video calls were not possible. So when the day of the delivery came, Jan. 18, 2013, Moch was not able to watch the birth of his baby.

Instead, the American Red Cross sent him a message, much like a telegram, telling him he was the father of a baby girl named Ava Mae Larson.

“She was 6 pounds, 14 ounces, 21 inches long and she was healthy,” he said. “I was pretty happy to hear that.”

Distance difficult

Meanwhile, back in North Dakota, his girlfriend was recovering from 24 hours of labor that ended after the baby’s heart rate started dropping and the doctor ordered an emergency C-section.

“It was the worst experience of my entire life,” Larson said.

The harrowing delivery was made more difficult by Moch’s absence.

“I had my mother, but, I mean, he wasn’t there,” Larson said. “There was no one there to, you know, talk it over.”

Moch struggled with his inability to help his family. He found some solace knowing he was serving his country, and his fellow soldiers, many of them close friends, also helped him cope.

“They kept me company and made sure I wasn’t going crazy,” he said.

For a couple of months after Ava was born, Larson lived with her mom, who had been a single mother. “She knew exactly what I was going through,” Larson said.

Larson’s mother helped with Ava, but the stress of Moch not being there and Larson having to do everything alone drove the couple apart. They started fighting, and after a while, they broke up.

Despite their differences, Larson kept sharing photos of Ava with Moch and sending him updates on how she was doing. However, the couple talked infrequently for the rest of his deployment.

‘This is my daughter’

On Aug. 30, Moch and his company, dressed in camouflage uniforms, flew home to North Dakota. On their descent toward Bismarck, the sight of flat land lifted their spirits.

“We were all pretty excited, and then walking into the airport and seeing all the people and friends and family, it was really nice to know how much that we were supported,” he said.

Moch’s mom, dad, brother, high school friends and Larson came to greet him, but the person he really wanted to see was 7-month-old Ava.

Meeting her for the first time in the airport, Moch said, was a surreal experience. Holding her, he couldn’t believe she was already so big.

“After a couple of minutes, it finally kicked in that, ‘Hey, this is my daughter,’ ” he said.

A proud father, Moch couldn’t stop smiling as he stared at Ava. He didn’t want to look away, and he didn’t want to let go.

Larson was worried Ava would cry when she met her dad, but that wasn’t the case. “She took to him super fast,” Larson said. “They bonded.”

During his first weeks back, Moch visited Larson and Ava at their apartment in Mandan whenever he could. The new father, who already had experience with kids, quickly transitioned to civilian life and learned his family’s routine.

“We had to kind of teach him how things go, but he did really well,” Larson said.

Moch soon went to work in the oilfields, returning to a job he had before his deployment. In time, he and Larson started talking about their relationship, and they reconciled.

“We worked on things, and now we’re back together again,” he said.

The couple is not living together, and they’re not engaged, but they know marriage is a likely possibility.

“We are going slow and making sure that both of us are happy,” Larson said, adding that they want to forge a strong relationship for their daughter’s sake.

Now 11 months old, Ava continues to thrive. She can crawl, walk with help and pull herself up on furniture.

“She likes to jump on the couch,” her dad said. “She’s a little daredevil.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734