Sur­prise home­com­ing

Air­man re­turns early, hides in de­coy toy box at kids’ school

The Calvert Recorder - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU [email protected]­news.com

Ja­cob and his sis­ter, McCart­nie Rea, went to school as usual Fri­day. They had no idea of the big sur­prise that was com­ing that morn­ing.

With hun­dreds of other Plum Point Mid­dle School stu­dents, they were sum­moned to the cafe­te­ria for a Toys for Tots event.

As Prin­ci­pal Kel­ley Adams and a Toys for Tots rep­re­sen­ta­tive briefed the stu­dents on the pro­gram, school staff qui­etly and se­lec­tively handed sev­eral stu­dents some gift toys. Among the se­lected, Ja­cob and McCart­nie were asked to go up on stage to demon­strate how the pro­gram works by drop­ping the toys into a box.

The red box was so large that McCart­nie thought there may

be a doll­house in­side. When Derek Rea, their fa­ther, came out of that box, they al­most didn’t rec­og­nize him.

Ja­cob, 13, thought it was a po­lice of­fi­cer who came to tell them more about the toys pro­gram. McCart­nie, 12, couldn’t be­lieve it.

“I thought they were play­ing a joke on me or some­thing,” McCart­nie said. “That’s not my dad. He’s not com­ing home un­til March.”

Derek, a tech­ni­cal sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, was de­ployed to Qatar, a coun­try in the Mid­dle East, in Au­gust. He was sched­uled to come home in March 2019. Be­cause of an ac­ci­dent at work, he was sent back home on med­i­cal leave and came home Thurs­day, Nov. 29. Once he had learned that he was com­ing home ear­lier than ex­pected, he reached out to Plum Point Mid­dle to ar­range a sur­prise.

To hide the sur­prise, the school de­signed a de­coy Toys for Tots event, which is a pro­gram the school is or­ga­niz­ing this year to give toys to chil­dren in need.

“I knew it would sur­prise them, and they would get a kick out of it,” said the fa­ther, who had a big smile on his face. “It means a lot to be home for the hol­i­days.”

Be­cause of the jet lag and ex­cite­ment, Derek didn’t sleep well Thurs- day night. It was tough for him to not go see his two chil­dren right away. But he told him­self it was worth the wait. He went to bed early Thurs­day and woke up around 3:30 a.m. Fri­day. As the morn­ing came, he grew more anx­ious and ex­cited.

“More and more but­ter­flies,” he said.

A few min­utes be­fore 10 a.m. when the stu­dents were sched­uled to come, he climbed in­side the red box and waited.

“I was just happy” to see him, Ja­cob said, de­scrib- ing the mo­ment.

Fol­lowed by his sis­ter, he ran to his fa­ther to hug him. They buried their heads in his shoul­der with tears com­ing down their faces as their fa­ther held them tight. In the background, the song “God Bless the U.S.A.” played on.

“It’s re­ally in­sane,” said Laura Jones, a friend of Ja­cob’s and one of the stu­dents who teared up as they wit­nessed the emo­tional mo­ment. “You see this kind of thing on YouTube. But you don’t think it’s around you. But it is.”

Laura takes pho­tos for the school’s march­ing band and was asked to take pho­tos of the event Fri­day. She cried as her cam­era shut­ter clicked.

“It’s just so beau­ti­ful to see that they are gonna have their hol­i­days with their dad,” she said af­ter the event, her eyes still red from cry­ing mo­ments ear­lier.

Af­ter the emo­tional re­union, the Reas headed to a Mex­i­can restau­rant where they used to go ev­ery week­end for cel­e­bra­tion.

On their way out of school, Ja­cob was teased by his fa­ther and sis­ter on his wear­ing a pair of slip­pers to school Fri­day.

“He didn’t know Dad’s com­ing,” McCart­nie said.

“Just lazy,” Derek said.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY DANDAN ZOU

Re­turn­ing Sgt. Derek Rea, cen­ter, sticks his tongue out in an emo­tional mo­ment af­ter he sur­prised his two chil­dren, McCart­nie and Ja­cob, on Fri­day morn­ing at Plum Point Mid­dle School by com­ing home ear­lier than ex­pected.

Top, McCart­nie Rea is sur­prised to see her fa­ther, Sgt. Derek Rea, com­ing out of a large toy box Fri­day morn­ing. She didn’t know her fa­ther had come home ear­lier than ex­pected and ar­ranged the event to sur­prise her and her brother, Ja­cob. Above, Derek Rea runs out of the box where he was hid­ing.

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