Airman returns home from deployment, surprises children

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Susan Gladstein
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Some of Lt. Col. Paul Aguirre's family members were missing from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport when he arrived home May 6, 2012, after traveling three days following an seven-month deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

For the Arizona Air National Guardsman, his plans to reunite with his 6-year-old son Jackson, and 5-year-old daughter Alanna, would be one they - and 26,447 Diamondbacks fans -- would never forget.

The surprise began when Colonel Aguirre, who had attended every Diamondbacks opening day and final home game with his children up until his deployment, wrote a letter to the Diamondbacks from Afghanistan.

"For us it was a no-brainer," Arizona CEO and president Derrick Hall said. "When we got the letter, we wanted to do all we could."

During their regularly scheduled Thursday video chat, Colonel Aguirre told his son and daughter they had been chosen by the Diamondbacks to throw the first pitch before the May 7 game against the St. Louis Cardinals. During what would be their last video chat, Colonel Aguirre told Jackson and Alanna he'd be home soon and told them he'd be delivering a special video message to them during the game.

Alanna told her dad exactly what she wanted him to say on his video message that would be shown on the JumboTron and Colonel Aguirre took careful notes to be sure the message was just what she wanted it to be.

While on the mound, with thousands of Diamondback fans looking on, Colonel Aguirre appeared on screen with Alanna's carefully written speech to them.

"Alanna and Jackson, I love you guys so much. Sorry that I'm not going to be able to be there for when you throw your first pitch for the Diamondbacks," said Colonel Aguirre.

What Jackson and Alanna didn't know was that the man in the baseball uniform at home plate was not a Diamondbacks player, but instead their dad who was standing by to catch their pitches.

After Jackson and Alanna threw their pitches, the public-address announcer said, ""Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome home Lt. Col. Paul Aguirre," and crowd at Chase Field erupted with applause and cheers. As Colonel Aguirre removed the catcher's mask and revealed himself to Jackson and Alanna, they smiled as they ran to hug their dad.

Afterward, Alanna said, "I was thinking, 'That's Daddy, even when his mask was on.'" Jackson wasn't quite convinced although he said, "I didn't know it as my dad, even though he looks like him."

"I heard a little bit of the crowd reaction, but to be honest with you, I was just trying to control my own emotions," Colonel Aguirre said. 'It was kind of hard seeing them, because I hadn't seen them for eight months, almost. I had to kind of restrain myself. When I started walking out there, I was welling up with emotion."