Surprise for ‘CAB’ kids turned on head
Columbus, Ohio — The operational security employed to ensure “Operation Daddy’s Home” was a surprise may have rivaled that of any military operation. For a Fort Bliss-based aircraft maintainer, the surprise reunion he planned for his children, Noah and Beau, at the end of his fourth deployment surprised him instead, as teachers and students joined the reunion to say goodbye to a Columbus elementary school’s two favorite Texas students.
Staff Sgt. Ryan Fiber, 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade, had only planned on surprising his children at the end of their school day and asked the principal if it would be all right.
Angela Moore-Tyler, principal for West Mound Elementary School, located in Ohio’s capital city, not only gave his request the green light, she also hatched some plans of her own.
“This is great of a moment,” said Moore-Tyler, sporting a camouflage blouse under her black suit. “This is something special that we will all always remember.”
Fiber was waiting just across the street from West Mound Elementary School inside his aunt and uncle Debra and Donald Swogger’s home. Upon walking outside, he realized this was not going to be a simple mission.
“When I saw the television trucks and the banners, I did not know what to think,” he said.
Once Moore-Tyler gave her approval, she started thinking about reunions and how important it would be for the students to learn about the sacrifices of military families. She hatched a plan where Noah’s third grade class would teach Beau’s kindergarten class about the American flag.
Fiber then would come through the doorway wearing his uniform. She thought it was such a good idea she also ensured the Columbus City School’s public affairs officer clued the local media in on the “operation.”
Inspired by the school’s plans, Debra Swogger felt this reunion was just too big of an event not to include her friends from church. She mobilized a small detachment of faithful from Canaan Land Freewill Baptist Church in Grove City, Ohio, to fill out the ranks of supporters and hold up “Welcome Home” banners for her nephew.
With his aunt and children’s principal upping the stakes, Fiber had only two options and retreat was not one of them. With strict military bearing and holding a bouquet of helium balloons, the helicopter maintainer marched through the gauntlet of cameras and well-wishers and determinedly stole into the West Mound Kindergarten classroom unnoticed. That was until his daughter Noah violated one a classroom rule that students must use inside voices only.
“Daddy!” shouted Noah. Her voice echoed through the hallways as she rushed to her father’s side and buried her head into his chest.
Beau’s reaction was stunned silence until he saw his big sister had picked a prime position in their father’s arms, so he made a quick flanking movement to Fiber’s other side.
With his wife, Melissa, family and friends in the doorway, Fiber was oblivious to the rush of cameras and microphones that engulfed his family. Since January, Fiber’s children have lived with the Swoggers on Columbus’ west side. Their house was home for the children while Fiber was deployed and their mother recovered from surgery. For the Swoggers, having children in the house for the first time after 41 years of marriage, was a challenge.
“It was different,” said Don Swogger. “For the first time we just could not take off whenever we wanted and we had to make sure someone was home when the kids got home from school.”
Being tied to a schedule was not the only change. The Swogger’s provisioning requirements changed too.
“Well, you have to get kids stuff in the house,” said Swogger. “I mean kid foods like juices and things we never eat, plus toys. You can’t have kids without toys.”
While Noah and Beau clung to Fiber like an ACU patch to Velcro, Melissa was peppered by reporters on the trials of being an Army wife. After four deployments, one reported asked, “So, these things must get easier?”
“Each deployment is different,” said Melissa. “I would not say easier. It’s never easy but you learn how to adapt and work hard so you and your kids can get through it.”
Fiber’s wife also related different ways she stayed close to her husband while he was away. Aside from emails and Skype sessions, Melissa’s cell phone provide special comfort.
“Voicemails,” she said. “I would save his voicemails and play them so I could hear his voice.”
Noah was not only excited about being reunited with her dad again, but also with knowing her family would be returning home to Fort Bliss. Noah said she made many friends in Ohio and she liked her new school, but she missed her old friends, school and Texas a lot.
“It’s too cold here,” said Noah. “Here you have snow, and Christmas and lots of seasons. In Texas, it’s hot and we can play outside a lot more than here.”
With microphones being unhooked and camera flashes fading, the local media began to thin out, leaving the Fibers to begin bonding as a family. The afternoon school bell rang and Noah’s classmates were rounded up so they could collect book bags before heading home for the weekend.
At the end of the line of little students, Toracy, one of Noah’s Ohio friends, summed up the day in the most honest way, as children do best.
“This is the most wonderful thing I ever saw in my entire life.”