It all started in Bagram, Afghanistan, when he cut in front of her in the chow line and grabbed the last hamburger.
Three days later, she ran into him again at the phone shack. This time, he struck up a conversation. They hung out the next day, too. It was then that he asked her, “What’s your dream date, and what would a guy have to do to impress you?” Her answer: “Show up at my door in a chicken suit and take me to eat pizza and shoot pool at the rec center.”
And that’s what Devon Barnhart did … almost. Instead of wearing a chicken suit, he brought a picture of the three he ordered. No one would deliver chicken suits to Afghanistan, but he assured Melody that they would be waiting for her when she got home. Then, he took her on her dream date.
“I never laughed so hard in my life,” Melody remembers. “After that, we spent our days together talking, laughing and building our friendship. No cellphones, no social media, just two people with time to kill getting to know each other.”
When Melody went home on leave, the two stayed in contact. When she returned to Afghanistan, she went straight to Devon’s room and knocked on the door. They hugged for the first time and admitted that they loved each other. She also told him she decided to leave the military at the end of her contract so they could be together and so she could be with her 6-year-old son, Dylan.
A beautiful gift
In Afghanistan, members of the Afghan National Army and Afghani locals referred to Melody as “Layla,” and used to say to her, “baksheesh Layla.” Not knowing what they meant, she was offended at first. She later sat down with Afghan leaders who told her the seventh-century love story of Layla and Majnun, considered “the Romeo and Juliet of the East.”
The leaders explained that calling her Layla was a compliment to Melody’s beauty, and that the locals considered her a gift (baksheesh) because she brought presents and supplies to people in the villages. Devon, who was also at this meeting, agreed. Baksheesh Layla — a beautiful gift.
Soon, Devon learned to play Eric Clapton’s “Layla” on his acoustic guitar. He told Melody that one day they would have a little girl and name her Layla.
To the Barnharts, Layla was more than a name — it represented their story. Like Layla and Majnun, Melody and Devon couldn’t always physically be together due to their circumstances. They didn’t know what the next mission would be or what the rest of their days could be like, but agreed that as long as they planned a future they would have one to look forward to.
A new beginning
Melody and Devon were married in January 2012, between deployments. Early in their marriage, they spent a total of 13 months apart. Melody completed active duty on Christmas Day 2013, and Devon in August 2015. Around the same time, Melody began working at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. She now works at Sharp Health Plan as a knowledge management process optimization analyst.
Their first child together was a boy, Ian, born in January 2015. Then in August 2016, they were surprised by a second pregnancy. That’s when Devon started playing “Layla” on his guitar again. He was hoping for their baksheesh Layla — and they got her.
Layla Ann-Marie Barnhart was born at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns on April 10, 2017. She had brown hair just like her mother predicted. And she could never know how much her parents loved her before she ever even took her first breath.
“Having Layla was an incredible experience,” Melody says. “Everyone in the hospital, from the parking attendant to the intake coordinator to the nurses, made us feel at ease and shared in our excitement. They formed bonds with me and my husband, always making sure we were comfortable and knew what to expect every step of the way. I can’t thank them enough for taking such good care of my family.”
A wonderful beginning to the next chapter of their story. A beautiful gift, indeed.
Sharp HealthCare appreciates Melody, Devon and all veterans for the sacrifices they have made and continue to make to serve our country.
For the news media: To talk with Melody and Devon about their story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.