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7-year-old sees dad for first time in year

Last Modified: Thursday, February 13, 2014 11:52 AM

By Kara Carrier / American Press

When his classroom door at Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy opened at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7-year-old Christian Velequez stared in disbelief at the soldier — still dressed in his Army combat uniform — who walked in. “Daddy,” Velequez cried as he ran into the arms of his father, Sgt. Herbert Thibodeaux.

Thibodeaux, a single father, deployed to Kuwait last April with the 336th Finance reserve unit and had to leave his son in the care of his mother, Ethel Thibodeaux. He hadn’t seen either of them since May 2013 when he had a four-day pass.

“I really wanted to surprise both my mom and my son when I came home,” Thibodeaux said. “So when I first got back to the States, I told my younger sister that I didn’t want anyone to know.”

Thibodeaux said that on Tuesday night when he flew into Houston, he enlisted the help of his sister and other family members to pick him up from the airport, hide him for one night and make plans to surprise his mom at work and his son at school the next day.

Thibodeaux succeeded in his mission, first showing up at J.J. Johnson Elementary, where his mother teaches Pre-K. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Ethel Thibodeaux said. “I just started screaming and crying when he walked in.”

Thibodeaux and his family next went to SLCA to surprise Christian. “It was wonderful. Best feeling in the world,” Thibodeaux said about Christian’s reaction.

This wasn’t Thibodeaux’s first deployment, but he said this time was different because he is now a single parent and his son’s primary caregiver. All he could think about during the past year, he said, was getting back to his son.

“I missed him being my shadow, because I don’t go anywhere without him there,” Thibodeaux said. “At first I wanted to have him at the airport when I came in, but when I found out about being able to surprise him I decided to do it this way. It was perfect.”

Thibodeaux said his future plans are to finish his degree in civil engineering at McNeese and then join the Army Corps of Engineers as a commissioned officer. But tonight, he said, he and Christian will be going out for ice cream and pizza.

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