LYNN HAVEN — Mondays may feel like the longest day of the week, but for Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Chasmine Banks, Monday was the longest day of her life.
The Navy builder recently had returned from a seven-month deployment in West Africa, and had been back in the states for about a month-and-a-half, going through debriefing in Gulfport, Mississippi. She had been back in the area only two days and was picking up her 11-year-old son, Gabriel “Gabe” Little, at Mowat Middle School.
But there was a catch — Gabe didn’t know his mother was home, and he wasn’t expecting to see her for at least another month.
“Apparently he’s grown a lot,” Banks said as she paced around Principal Ed Sheffield’s office. “I’m nervous but excited. I’m just ready to have him in my arms. It’s me and him against the world, and I miss him so much.”
Banks has been deployed one time before, spending nine months in 2013 and 2014 in Afghanistan. She said she planned on surprising Gabe then, but her mother passed away and she came home early. She started planning Monday’s surprise over a year ago, when she got her orders last July. She left Panama City for Gulfport that November, and she hasn’t seen her son since February.
“I had him when I was 16,” Banks said. “He’s my life. He’s my world.
“I do this for him,” she added, gesturing to her Navy uniform. “That’s why I’m in this uniform.”
While overseas, Banks said she talked to Gabe constantly, using Facebook, calling him and texting him. She watched a video of him saying he loved her every night before bed, and carried with her a stuffed giraffe named George that Gabe gave her before her last deployment.
“Afghanistan, Africa — he’s been with me through all of it,” she said.
To keep up the ruse when she was stateside and had her phone back working again, Banks said she kept texting Gabe through the same app they used to connect when she was in Africa, and managed to avoid arousing suspicion.
Walking down the hall to her son’s classroom, Banks said her heart was pounding and she was shaking. It only took a few seconds for Gabe to recognize who just interrupted his science class and bolt out of his chair into his mother’s arms.
Later, back in the hallway after exchanging hugs and selfies, Banks grasped her — considerably taller than she remembered — son by the shoulders.
“I’ve been in the states for a month and a half,” she told him.
“Really?” he replied, rolling his eyes.
Banks will be on leave through October. She said she doesn’t have much planned, but there may be a surprise trip to Disney in Gabe’s future.
(c)2017 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)
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