At Lake Harriet Lower Elementary in Southwest Minneapolis, first-grader Ava Kearley had been counting the days, 234 days to be exact until her father would return from his deployment in Afghanistan.
Lt. Robert Kearley, 40, of Minneapolis, serves as a public affairs officer in the US Navy reserves, and last November was deployed on a NATO-led mission to assist and train Afghan security defense forces.
All those days, over eight long months, Lt. Kearley been waiting too, to surprise his daughter. He last saw her when he dropped her off at her school before his deployment, so it was only fitting that he would return to the place where he last hugged her, to finally, hug her again.
The deployment was difficult for the entire family, as they recently moved to Minnesota for Kearley’s job working in Best Buy’s government affairs department.
As they were settling into their new life, Kearley found out he was going to be deployed, leaving his wife Kelly and their daughter Ava to adjust to a new city on their own. Coming home now has new meaning for Kearleys’ as the family can begin to build a life in Minnesota.
“I had flown all around the world just to come here for this one moment,” said Kearley. “I am very curious about the reaction I will get, as far as which version of ‘Daddy’ I will hear.”
Ava thought the KARE 11 news crew was in her class to give a presentation when suddenly, her classmates gasped.
She didn’t at first notice her dad walking in, but then turned, and yelled those words Kearley had long been waiting for.
“Daddy!” Ava exclaimed, rushing into his arms. She didn’t let go.
“I hope this is not a dream,” she told her dad.
At that moment, the dreams of a 7-year-old were realized, when after eight long months, her family is back together.
“Sweetie, you are such a big girl, look at you, you are so big,” Lt. Kearley told his daughter, in just one more hug. “The Navy is ended, I’m home for good now.”