From the moment he saw that familiar face walk into his Blanco Vista Elementary classroom, Pre-K student Miguel Gueveca-Rojo couldn’t contain the joy that welled up.
That person, dressed in his Sunday best and clutching a teddy bear with military fatigues, was someone he hasn’t seen in nearly a year’s time.
Perhaps that’s why it took Guevaca-Rojo several seconds to react, trying to make sense of what was happening.
His dad, Jorge Soto, a Sgt. 1st Class in the U.S. Army, was back home for a short period from his deployment and paid the Pre-K student a surprise visit. It was a moment Soto felt was “amazing.”
“It’s unexplainable. I’ve started doing this since the beginning of last year. It’s been a year since we interacted. It’s amazing. It’s a good feeling though,” Soto said.
Soto, who has been stationed in Africa for the past nine or so months, was informed Jan. 16 he could return home for a 15-day period; Soto left Africa Jan. 19.
Soto said one of his main priorities was rejoining his family and meeting them. Soto and Leticia, his wife, decided to keep his return a secret from Miguel. Leticia and Jorge both coordinated with Sean Fox, Blanco Vista Elementary principal, and Belinda Auditore, Blanco Vista bilingual Pre-K teacher, about the surprise visit.
Plans for the surprise visit coincided with already scheduled awards ceremonies that were being conducted at Blanco Vista Elementary; Miguel was awarded several honors. The timing of it all was key for Jorge, who was deployed prior to Miguel starting school.
“Everything fell into place as far as him having those recognitions and me coming in earlier in the morning,” Soto said.
There were few dry eyes when the big moment came. Miguel made his way to his father and cried as they embraced in a big hug.
“I was not expecting him to cry because when we do get to talk, he’s very outgoing and plays a lot with me and smiles a lot,” Soto said. “I was not expecting him to cry. I think he was in shock.”
For Leticia, the moment was equally important for her son, who has struggled to adjust to Jorge’s departure. It’s a struggle many military families often try to navigate, Leticia said.
“I was just really happy to see my son. I know how hard it has been for him without his dad. I was happy to see him get reunited again,” Leticia said.
Trying to take advantage of the next 15 or so days is what Jorge, Leticia and Miguel will all try to accomplish.
“I’m mainly going to try and reintegrate with the family. And help my wife, she’s been doing this all alone for nine months,” Jorge said. “Try to help out around the house, plan for things when I do come back and mainly spend time with the kiddos.”