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Surprise visit unites wounded GI with girlfriend, newborn daughter

By: LANCE BENZEL
April 29, 2010
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photo - Jennifer Mercado leans over to kiss her boyfriend, Sgt. Andrew Peden Thursday as they spend time together with their two-day old daughter Elizabeth Grace Peden at Memorial Hospital North. Peden lost his left leg below the knee in an IED explosion last month in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. He was able to leave Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a short visit to surprise Jennifer and meet his new daughter.  Photo by Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Jennifer Mercado leans over to kiss her boyfriend, Sgt. Andrew Peden Thursday as they spend time together with their two-day old daughter Elizabeth Grace Peden at Memorial Hospital North. Peden lost his left leg below the knee in an IED explosion last month in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. He was able to leave Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a short visit to surprise Jennifer and meet his new daughter. Photo by Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

With her boyfriend recuperating from an explosion in Afghanistan that took part of his left leg, Jennifer Mercado understood why he couldn’t be home for the birth of their daughter in Colorado Springs.

She just hoped he’d send some flowers.

On Wednesday, a day after their child’s birth, Fort Carson soldier Sgt. Andrew Peden did her one better.

In a carefully choreographed surprise that involved finagling leave from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., Peden arranged a last-minute flight into Colorado Springs and got a friend to push his wheelchair up to Mercado’s second-floor room at Memorial Hospital North.

Then he delivered the flowers in person.

“I couldn’t even believe that it was real,” Mercado said of their sudden and tearful reunion at 2 p.m. Wednesday, in which Peden embraced her “for I don’t know how long” and held his daughter for the first time.

“I was crying, and he was crying, and she was just chilling,” Mercado said, referring to the calmest person in the room at the time: little Elizabeth Grace Peden, born at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The 7 pound, 10 ounce newborn has a thick head of dark hair adorned with a light green ribbon that Peden traced with his fingertip Thursday while the couple recounted their story.

Peden, 28, was wounded March 24 while on a patrol in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, where he deployed in December as a mid-tour replacement in the 4th Brigade Combat Team’s 1st Batallion, 12th Infantry Regiment.

After learning that Taliban fighters were in the area, Peden and his comrades scrambled to prepare for a potential firefight. That’s when Peden stepped directly on a homemade bomb, which detonated in a blast that took his left foot and peppered the right half of his body with shrapnel.

A second soldier suffered a concussion and shrapnel wounds.

Enemy fighters opened fire at once, but Peden’s comrades drove them away while a medic tended to his wounds.

“My medic and squad leader both did an excellent job of getting a tourniquet on me,” Peden said. “They saved not only my life but my knee.”

The soldiers discovered after the fight that the explosion failed to detonate a secondary device packing approximately 40 pounds of explosives.

Peden, who served an earlier, 15-month tour in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division, had his leg amputated just below the knee. He wants to remain in the Army, possibly as a drill sergeant, and plans to learn to snowboard on a prosthetic foot.

His four-day leave ends Saturday morning, when he’ll return to Washington for several more months of treatment.

Until then, he said, he plans to be at Mercado’s side with their new daughter.

“She’s got a round face, just like her daddy, and lots of hair,” Peden said, cradling the girl in his bandaged arm.

“I’m gonna miss you, baby girl.”

Call the writer at 636-0366.

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