Hayden Adkins thought his Marine father was coming home from overseas in about 30 days, but on Tuesday, the Graham A. Barden Elementary School third-grader got a big surprise.
The 8-year-old was in the library with classmates when his dad, Sgt. Brandon Miller, snuck in for an impromptu reunion.
Hayden turned to see his father and seemed to be in disbelief. Then he said, “Hey Dad. You need to shave your mustache.”
The two quickly embraced as wife and mother Melissa Miller shed tears at the sight of the pair as she held the couple’s other child, 2-year-old daughter Layla.
The Millers, of Havelock, had arranged with school administrators to have the reunion at school.
“With my dad being in the Army my entire life, I knew my dad was coming home so when I was at school, I would be watching the door to see if he’s coming,” Brandon Miller said of his own childhood. “He never did because he always got home late.”
Miller said he had tried to surprise his son before but logistics weren’t right to make it happen.
“Because this is my third coming home, the last two deployments I’ve tried to do it just to be spontaneous,” he said. “This is the first one that I’ve actually gotten home in time to actually do it, so I wanted to do it.”
Miller has spent the last eight months in Afghanistan and Qatar with the Cherry Point-based Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2. Miller was one of about 100 with VMAQ-2 to return home on Tuesday.
Miller works as an electrician on the EA-6B Prowler, but to his son, dad’s role is much more interesting.
“He’s a Marine. He helps people stay alive by getting them food and water,” the third-grader said.
Returning was emotional for the father.
“When we were walking down the hall, I really didn’t know how to feel or what I was going to do when I came in because I didn’t know what he was doing,” Miller said. “But every thought was running through my head trying to figure out how I felt. What I was going to do? I ended up just winging it I guess.”
Wife Melissa Miller thought she had ruined the surprise at one point.
“It went really well. I honestly didn’t know that the surprise would work out because I slipped up the other day, but we managed to make it work,” she said. “I accidentally told him that he was coming home in two days and my sister told him no he’s coming home in 30.
“It’s exciting. We miss him and I know the kids have a hard time dealing with it. But he’s home now.”
The Marine father, who may be redeploying in just six months, says he tries to soak up all of his time at home with family.
“I try to get involved with the homework as much as I can just to take the load off the wife,” he said. “She’s already doing a whole lot with me gone all the time. She’s got both the kids. I try to do what I can.
“Sometime next year I will probably be deploying again. When I’m home, I try to absorb as much as I can.”
He said he son enjoys riding bikes and skateboarding, and that much time would be spent together in those endeavors.
Hayden said he looked forward to playing Call of Duty on Play Station with his dad.
As for that strip of facial hair above the lip, Miller said it wouldn’t be there for long.
“He looks old because he has a mustache,” Hayden said.
“Yeah, I’m going to shave the mustache I guess. It’s got to go. It’s a deployment thing,” Miller said. “I was going to wait till I got home just to show him so he could make fun of me.”