Dad, is that you?
A man dressed in fatigues is nothing new at Orion Elementary School on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
That’s why it took Nolan Campbell a few seconds to realize what was happening when his father walked into his fifth-grade classroom.
Fresh off a five-and-a-half-month deployment to Southwest Asia, Tech. Sgt. Eddie Campbell surprised Nolan, 11, and his seven-year-old daughter, Aiko, on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Watching the reunion was pretty special, said principal Diane Hoffbauer.
“You can almost see their little faces clicking. ‘That’s not a visitor, that’s my dad,’” she said.
After surprising Nolan, it was Aiko’s turn.
She was reading in the library with her second-grade class when Campbell appeared from behind a row of bookshelves. Like he did with Nolan, Campbell picked Aiko up over his head and pulled her in for a tight embrace.
His latest trip overseas marked the seventh deployment for Campbell, a member of the U.S. Air Force’s 611th Engineering Squadron. Campbell has been gone 244 days out of each of the past two years.
Leaving his children never gets easier, Campbell said. This deployment was no different.
“I started missing them day two,” he said.
Though he’s gone for long stretches at a time — Aiko once told a stranger her father was dead — Campbell said they realize it’s part of his job.
“It’s my duty,” he said. “My family understands that.”
Campbell used Skype to keep in touch during his most recent deployment. Talking with their dad before school made his absence easier on the kids, Campbell said.
“My wife said it always perked them up,” he said.
Now that’s he reunited with his family, Campbell said he’s looking forward to taking his kids to see “Despicable Me 2” and playing video games with Nolan at the arcade.
Dealing with deployment is an everyday issue at Orion — whose student body is 100 percent military.
“They really miss their parents when they’re gone,” Hoffbauer said.
Campbell’s surprise homecoming was a rare treat, she said.
“Our school doesn’t always get to see this,” Hoffbauer said. “It’s not very often it’s a surprise.”
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org.