Af­ter 6 months in Afghanistan, sol­dier sur­prises his daugh­ter at school

The State - - Front Page - BY SARAH EL­LIS sel­lis@thes­tate.com

A dif­fi­cult six months for Hai­ley Dun­can got a lit­tle lighter Fri­day morn­ing.

“My grand­mother told me that it is eas­ier to let the days go by in­stead of count­ing them, but of course, I didn’t lis­ten,” the eighth-grader told an assem­bly of her fel­low stu­dents at Blythewood Mid­dle School.

Her dad, Army Col. Rod­ney Dun­can, had been de­ployed in Afghanistan, and not for the first time in her young life.

She did count the days. About 180 this time.

She can stop count­ing now. Hai­ley threw her head back, closed her eyes and dropped her speech pa­pers as Col. Dun­can walked to her on stage Fri­day, em­braced her and kissed his daugh­ter on her fore­head.

It was a sur­prise re­union for both Dun­cans, as the school, which is home to dozens of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, cel­e­brated Vet­er­ans Day.

Af­ter six months de­ployed in Afghanistan, Rod­ney Dun­can re­cently re­turned to Nor­folk, Va., where he is sta­tioned. He knew he’d be re­united with his daugh­ter in Blythewood on Fri­day, but he didn’t know it would be in front of her en­tire school at a Vet­er­ans Day assem­bly. Hai­ley’s mother, LaTanza Dun­can, had ar­ranged the sur­prise.

“I’m do­ing what I love, and be­ing de­ployed is part of that; but it’s the fam­ily mem­bers that ac­tu­ally have the hard part,” Rod­ney Dun­can said. “They’re the ones ... that are wor­ry­ing about us that are de­ployed.”

It was Dun­can’s dream to serve in the mil­i­tary ever since he was a teenager.

He ar­rived at Fort Bragg, N.C., af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of South Carolina in 1989 and was told, “Don’t un­pack your bags; you’re go­ing to Desert Storm,” Dun­can re­mem­bers.

Since his first de­ploy­ment in 1990, Dun­can has been sent over­seas at least 10 times. He was de­ployed about the time his daugh­ter was to be born and was granted emer­gency leave just in time to wel­come her to the world.

“As she’s get­ting older and un­der­stands de­ploy­ments ...

When I told her I was go­ing on this last de­ploy­ment to Afghanistan, she said, ‘You’re go­ing to war. You may not come back,’” Dun­can re­mem­bers. “So it’s real. It’s real now. So it makes it even harder be­cause I know she’s back here wor­ry­ing.”

Dur­ing Rod­ney’s most re­cent de­ploy­ment, LaTanza Dun­can said she was star­tled to walk in her daugh­ter’s room and find a note where she was count­ing the days her fa­ther was gone.

To help cope with her fa­ther be­ing away, Hai­ley de­vel­oped a project to earn her Girl Scouts Sil­ver Award and help other mil­i­tary kids in her com­mu­nity cope with sep­a­ra­tions, too.

In Rich­land 2 mid­dle schools that have a high num­ber of mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, Hai­ley will hang world maps show­ing where stu­dents’ loved ones are sta­tioned. She’ll also be work­ing with men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als to dis­cuss re­sources for mil­i­tary chil­dren.

“Just be­cause we don’t see the wars on tele­vi­sion any­more doesn’t mean we are not still at war,” Hai­ley said. “I am a child that has to worry about a par­ent, and I am not alone.”

The re­united fa­ther and daugh­ter will get to spend a cou­ple of days to­gether, hang­ing out, catch­ing up, maybe see a movie, they said.

On Sun­day, Vet­er­ans Day, Col. Dun­can flies to Turkey.

ASHLEN REN­NER aren­ner@thes­tate.com

U.S. Army Col. Rod­ney Dun­can, who was de­ployed in Afghanistan, sur­prised his daugh­ter, Hai­ley Dun­can, at the Blythewood Mid­dle School Vet­er­ans Day cel­e­bra­tion.

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