U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Owen flew from Afghanistan to Alabama this week just to see his 18-year-old son graduate from Elkmont High School.
He wanted his appearance at the school’s commencement ceremony Thursday afternoon to be a surprise for his son, Nate Owen Jr.
School personnel helped made it so.
“I missed his (Nate’s) birthday by 12 hours while I was at basic training 18 years ago, so I didn’t want to miss this,” the elder Owen told media before the ceremony.
Nathaniel kept out of sight before the ceremony began so Nate wouldn’t get a glimpse of him.
When Nate’s name was called, he walked across the stage to accept his diploma from Principal Bill Tribble and to shake his hand.
Nathaniel, dressed in camouflage battle fatigues and holding Nate’s diploma, came out of hiding and followed Nate across the stage, being sure to stay behind him.
In front of Nate, Tribble was acting as if he couldn’t find Nate’s diploma in the stacks. At one point, the principal told Nate to turn around.
For a split second, a stunned Nate stared as his father as if he wasn’t sure he was seeing the dad who had been deployed to Afghanistan 13 months before.
Then, Nate lowered his head a bit, stretched out his arms, and the two shared a long hug. Audience members clapped and cheered.
After the ceremony, Nate told a few family members and others gathered around him he was shocked when he turned around and saw his father.
Nate and the rest of his family may be seeing more of Nathaniel. After 20 years of service, including three deployments, Nathaniel told media he hopes this latest deployment is his last, and he can spend more time with family.
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