Soldier's dash from Afghanistan to see baby born
- 12 July 2012
- From the section Essex
Sergeant Simon Mercer has dodged bombs and bullets during his five tours of Afghanistan.
But few challenges have proved as testing as the one he faced in getting home for the birth of his first child.
When the 30-year-old soldier received a call to say his wife Karen, 35, had gone into labour nine weeks early, he was still in Afghanistan.
Fourteen hours later - after one helicopter and three aeroplane flights - he was back in the UK.
A car was waiting for him at RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, which took him straight to his wife's bedside at Salisbury District Hospital.
"It was pretty kind of flash to bang the whole way through," he said.
"I think it took about 14 hours from leaving (Afghanistan) to walking through the hospital doors."
Mrs Mercer had been expecting to give birth on 13 August - coinciding with her husband's two weeks of leave.
'Floods of tears'
But during a planned tour of the hospital on 9 June, it was discovered she was already in labour.
Concerns over the health of the baby prompted midwives to contact the Ministry of Defence's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre.
A decision was taken that Sgt Mercer should be flown home - an option he would not normally have been given had the birth been routine.
Sgt Mercer, of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, arrived at about 15:00 BST on 10 June and said his wife had been "pretty happy" to see him.
"It was nice being home for her," he said.
Despite doctors' attempts to delay the labour, Heath was born at 12:35 BST the next day.
Mrs Mercer, who lives on Bulford Camp, in Wiltshire, said: "It was just amazing that they got him home in time. I'm very grateful, and yeah, (there were) floods of tears the whole time.
"So many photos we've taken of Si holding Heath just so he had that time together."
Sgt Mercer, from Chelmsford, Essex, was able to spend just under two weeks at home before returning to the front line in Afghanistan.
"It was just surreal," he said. "You kind of add the leaving Afghanistan and being at home in such a short space of time and then, all of a sudden, instead of it being me and my wife, it's me, my wife and my baby.
"I'm incredibly proud of my wife for how well she's been doing and incredibly proud of the little 'un for how well he has been fighting through."
Heath, who weighed just over 3lb (1.3kg), is being kept in hospital but Mrs Mercer is hoping to be able to take him home soon.
Sgt Mercer, who has spent about two-and-a-half years in Afghanistan, is due to return home from his latest tour in about three months.