By Deneed Smith
Jessie Knull was already having a pretty exciting seventh birthday celebration Saturday when her mom called her over to open a gift.
“This is a special present that came from the other side of the world,” her mother, Tara, said.
Jessie tugged the ribbons on the tall box and pulled away the wrapping paper to find her father, Ryan, waiting inside. Ryan, a Navy electronics technician, had just returned home Saturday morning from more than a year stationed in Bahrain.
His daughter had no idea he was home.
When she opened the big box and found him inside, Ryan lifted Jessie up for a hug.
Tara said she and her husband had been planning the surprise for nearly nine months. She said she learned about two months ago that the Navy planned to send him home April 19 – the two-day trip from the Middle East bringing Ryan home the day before Jessie’s seventh birthday.
Ryan is a 20-year veteran of the United States Navy, having joined just after high school. In the 14 years of their marriage, Tara said, Ryan has spent more than six years deployed on ship or overseas. He has been away on and off for much of Jessie’s life, keeping in touch with regular chats via Skype.
But Ryan is slated to retire in June, and until then, he will be stationed close to home.
After a long hug, father and daughter sat down together for a chat, and a chance for Ryan to catch up with the friends and family who had gathered for Jessie’s birthday party at the Kenosha Ice Arena.
He was exhausted, having traveled 22 hours on a plane and going without sleep to make it to the event.
For his final return, Tara said, they wanted to make the reunion special.
“It’s the last one, the very last one. We never have to top this one,” she said. “We just thought if we could pull it off, we better do it big.”
Editors Note: This story was passed along to us from Linda Knull, grandmother of Jessie Knull, who had a great surprise during her seventh birthday. We want to thank all of our service members and their families for the extraordinary sacrifices they make.