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LIers show concern for Marine denied leave for newborn

Cristal Wagenhauser with her two-week-old daughter Madison Rose,

Cristal Wagenhauser with her two-week-old daughter Madison Rose, who was born two months premature. Madison's father, a Marine, was originally denied emergency leave to see his newborn daughter.(Oct. 15, 2009) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Two New York congressmembers have said they will formally request that the Marine Corps allow a Marine to visit his wife and prematurely born daughter at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

Officials with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton) both said they will ask the Marines to reverse a decision barring Lt. Cpl. Keith Wagenhauser from returning from his overseas post to be with his wife and ailing child.

The plight of a military couple, whose daughter was born more than two months prematurely, has brought an outpouring of concern from other Long Island residents as well.

An Army National Guard soldier from a neighboring town whose own child was born prematurely last year has offered to lend assistance to the family.

"I just want her to know that I live in the next town over, and will help in any way that I can," said Army National Guard Spc. Juan Leon, 25, of Massapequa.

Cristal Wagenhauser, 21, gave birth to 2-pound, 11-ounce Madison Rose Oct. 3 while her husband was stationed aboard a ship in the vicinity of Iraq and Afghanistan. Marine officials declined to grant him leave, saying they typically do so only in cases of actual death or grave illness to immediate family members.

"I'm very excited that she's getting better, but when I'm by myself I cry a lot because she needs her dad to be here," said Cristal Wagenhauser. Her husband is from Middle Island, while Cristal is living with family in Lindenhurst.

Leon said his own family's experience leaves him particularly sympathetic. He was stationed in Afghanistan in 2008 when his wife, Lorraine, learned that her pregnancy was potentially life-threatening. But he was not granted leave until after local members of Congress asked the Army to relent.

Jessica Rose McGinn, 19, of Mastic Beach, asked Newsday to forward a message to the Wagenhausers explaining that she weighed only 21/2 pounds when she was born 28 weeks into her mother's pregnancy.

"There are no guarantees, but hearing that someone else came through this and is doing good might help her relax and know she doesn't have to panic," McGinn said in an interview.

Bishop is requesting the Marines reconsider their decision, according to an e-mail message from spokesman Will Jenkins.

Bethany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said the senator has asked the Marines to grant Wagenhauser "extraordinary leave" to be with his family. But several individuals who contacted Newsday said the Wagenhausers' situation is part of military life and does not merit special treatment.

Bruce Klimkowsky, 64, of West Hempstead, said: "Are we supposed to believe that soldiers should be pulled from active duty, flown home from wherever they are to attend the birth, and then flown back to active duty regardless of cost or obligation?"

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