On January 13, 2014, WWL-TV | Eyewitness News and The Times-Picayune | Nola.com featured stories about two kids who received the surprise of a lifetime when their dad returned home after serving in Afghanistan. BAMM Communications secured the media coverage for this story.
Read The Times-Picayune Story Below:
Algiers children get surprise reunion with father after his 9-month deployment to Afghanistan
By Melinda Morris, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune
Ten-year-old Laila Lee and brother Richard Lee Jr., 7, had no idea that when their principal at Alice Harte Charter School in Algiers, Jamar McKneely, asked them to be speakers at a school assembly today on respecting and supporting our troops that they’d be getting a special surprise.
After McKneely interviewed the children in front of students and faculty about their father’s service in Afghanistan, he had the children sit down while he announced that a special visitor would be the next speaker: their dad.
It was a tearful reunion for father and children as Army Spc. Richard Lee walked into the assembly, the children jumping out of their seats and running to him, throwing their arms around his neck.
Laila was especially overcome with emotion. Richard Jr. said he was looking forward to playing football with his dad. “And we always tickle a lot.”
Lee knows his children well; before the ceremony, he predicted Laila would be emotional and his son would be pretty stoic.
The ceremony was Lee’s idea, and McKneely was all too happy to accommodate his plan to surprise his children.
Lee, age 30, is a New Orleans native who now lives in Gretna; the children live in Algiers with their mother, Jessica Cook. This was Lee’s first deployment with the Army National Guard. He was part of a unit that picked up equipment from smaller bases that had closed and delivered the equipment back to a main base.
Danger was all around, he said. “Some nights, you didn’t know if you’d make it back.
“But we fought through it.
“We were well-protected by the Army,” he said, with helicopter and infantry support.
Being away from his children “was hard,” he said, “but I knew i had to focus so I could make it home to them.”The unit lost one man, Spc. Christopher Drake, Lee said. “We love him and appreciate him every day,” Lee said.
Lee’s children wear a special necklace that he gave them before he left: It’s inscribed with the words, “Laila, Richard and Daddy, united forever.”
Laila said the necklace is special because “it’s always good to know that he’s still with us.”
Laila said they knew their dad was coming home in January, but not exactly which day “because he wants to surprise us.”
Lee wasn’t just greeted by his own two children; his nieces, Olivia Cook and Mia Cook are also students at Alice Harte and also mobbed him with hugs and tears.
Lee spoke to the assembly after reuniting with his children, encouraging them to respect each other, their parents and teachers, and to be kind to each other, especially less-popular kids.
“Respect your peers and respect your parents and you will go a long way.”
He said Laila has told him there isn’t any bullying at Harte. “I’m proud of all you guys,” he told the students.
He encouraged the children to work hard in school. “Dedicate yourselves to your work,” he said. “I chose to dedicate myself to the Army. Some people say the Army is bad, but the Army took care of me and I’m home.”