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Airman surprises family with the gift of presence

Dec. 24, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Airman surprises his daughter
Airman surprises his daughter: Home video from Wendy Tripple of her husband, Lt. Col. Trent Tripple, an F-15E pilot, surprising their children after his deployment in the Middle East.
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Lt. Col. Trent Tripple with his wife, Wendy; son, Townsend; and daughter Tennessee, after his surprise early return Dec. 16 from a remote assignment. (Courtesy of Tripple family)

Wendy Tripple had steeled herself for her husband’s absence this Christmas. Lt. Col. Trent Tripple, an F-15E pilot, was due home from a one-year remote assignment in the Middle East the first week of January.

Wendy and the couple’s three children, Tayzlie, 14, Townsend, 12, and Tennessee, 9, planned to spend the holiday with her family in Rhode Island. They might not feel the absence so keenly away from their home in Springfield, Va., Wendy thought.

But on Dec. 16, while waiting for Townsend to finish up choir practice after school, Wendy got the surprise of her life.

There was Trent, in the hallway of the elementary school, walking toward her and Tennessee.

“It was almost like I was in shock,” Wendy said in a Dec. 24 interview with Air Force Times. Soon, the three of them were all embracing.

They went into Townsend’s choir practice. “My son’s eyes got so big, his mouth turned into a big smile, and he looked at us like, ‘Am I allowed to leave my spot?’ ”

The choir teacher, moved to tears by the sight, told him to go hug his dad.

Now there was just Tayzlie to surprise. Townsend captured the moment on a wobbly video taken from the bushes next to the Tripple family’s front door, bedecked in a Christmas wreath: Trent, a bouquet of flowers in hand, rings the doorbell once, then twice. The door opens. There is a momentary pause. You hear Tayzlie before you see her — an ear-piercing scream — and then she is wrapped around her father, her head buried in his neck.

The lieutenant colonel, who is stationed at the Pentagon, found out months ago he would be home before Christmas but decided to keep his arrival a surprise, Wendy said. His good friend, a chief master sergeant, picked Trent up from the airport and drove him to the children’s school.

Although Trent has had to miss many special occasions, this would have been the family’s first Christmas apart.

“The kids are old enough they realize he’s gone. When they’re younger, they don’t realize it as much. Now that they’re older, they felt the hole in our family,” Wendy said.

They went to Rhode Island anyway, all of them, where on Christmas Eve morning they were hoping for snow so they could go sledding. Trent and Tayzlie planned to play basketball together. Tayzlie had picked up the game while her dad was in the Middle East. Now Trent would get to see her play for the first time and offer some tips.

The Tripples are still pinching themselves, Wendy said. “It almost feels surreal. The other day, Tennessee said, ‘You mean he’s really here? For good?’ ”

Yes, Wendy told her youngest child. “He’s here to stay.”

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