SHRUB OAK, N.Y. – Chris Larkin had waited long enough.
After finishing a nine-month tour in the Middle East and spending a few more days in Texas, the specialist with the New York National Guard just wanted to see his son, Sean, who was in a different grade the last time they were together.
So, after deplaning in New York City on Thursday, Jan. 31, the elder Larkin wasted no time, heading straight toward Ben Franklin Elementary School, where he planned to surprise his son, a second-grade student.
He had been planning this surprise visit with school teachers and administrators for a while, but his Thursday arrival even caught them off guard. Larkin was expected home the following week, but his command pulled strings and expedited his return.
Before boarding a plane that morning in Fort Hood, Larkin shared his early arrival plans with school officials, who made last-minute preparations to ensure that Sean was surprised. Larkin arrived at the school around 2:05 p.m. when his son was in the library with the rest of his class.
The plan worked.
Sean was caught off guard, leaping into his father’s arms and embracing him for nearly a minute before introducing him to his classmates.
“I’m very surprised,” Sean said afterward. “I saw someone over there taking a picture and then I’m like, ‘Why are people having cameras taking pictures?’ And then all of a sudden, I’m like, ‘Is this a dream or is this real life?’”
The students peppered Chris Larkin with questions, turning his surprise appearance into an impromptu show and tell. He was prepared, wowing the students with the different currencies he acquired in countries like Qatar.
“This is amazing,” Larkin said of the homecoming.
Sean was thrilled to have his dad home.
“I feel very good,” Sean said. “My dad has been gone for a very long time. I really like it that he’s home now.”
Larkin is a member of the New York Army National Guard’s 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, which has headquarters in Yonkers and elements in Peekskill and Orangeburg. He and about 300 other soldiers returned to Texas from Kuwait on Jan. 25.
The unit left the Hudson Valley from Stewart Air National Guard Base last March 17. They trained for 45 days before deploying.
Larkin’s battalion provides communications support to military units across large distances using satellite communications technology. He served nine months in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (military operations in Syria against the Islamic State) and Operation Spartan Shield (building the militaries of Middle Eastern nations). The 101st soldiers also supported Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the ongoing mission in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda remnants.
His unit provided communications support at seven locations and manned a dozen communications hubs across U.S. Central Command’s area. The soldiers took part in three major exercises in Egypt and Qatar and also managed tactical communications for the Army Theater Wide Air Defense Artillery Brigade’s Patriot missile sites in the Persian Gulf region.
The New York National Guard soldiers also provided secure computer communications to military units operating in southern Afghanistan.