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Marine dad surprises son at football game

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Chief Warrant Officer Robert Hamlett surprises his 13-year-old son Bobby with an unexpected homecoming before a T. Benton Gayle Middle School football game in Stafford County on Wednesday. Hamlett had returned to the United States after a six-month deployment in Afghanistan the previous night. (Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star)

Wednesday was a significant day for 13 year-old Bobby Hamlett for two reasons.

Not only was it the day of his first football game as a cornerback for the T. Benton Gayle Middle School Panthers, but it was also the first time he had seen his dad, Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rob Hamlett, in six months.

Rob, who was serving in Afghanistan, returned home late Tuesday night, unbeknownst to his two children, Bobby and Marissa, who is a fourth-grader at Hartwood Elementary School.

In almost 20 years in the Marine Corps, both Rob and his wife, Juana, who is also an active-duty Marine, have rarely been home at the same time since 2005.

But this homecoming, they hope, will be the last, as it marks the end of his final tour of duty.

“We just wanted to do something special for the kids this time,” Rob said.

So he and Juana devised a plan to surprise their two children.

“It was pretty hard not to tell them ’cause we’ve gone on numerous deployments and that’s the first thing they always ask us,” Juana said. “Bobby asked, ‘When’s dad coming home?’ and I had to say, ‘A couple of weeks.’”

After spending the night in a hotel, Rob first went to Hartwood Elementary to surprise Marissa.

“I was in gym class and I saw everybody with cameras and I was like ‘Why is everybody with cameras?’ And then I saw my dad,” Marissa said, sitting contently on her dad’s lap. “It was amazing.”

The family then went to Gayle Middle School where they sneaked in through a back entrance and hid in a conference room.

“They kind of chauffeured us from one area to the next to hide us,” Juana said.

With only a day’s notice, the school orchestrated the surprise for Bobby.

At 10 minutes to four, Gayle’s Assistant Vice Principal William Scheff, with radio in hand, escorted the Hamlett family out of the school to hide behind the bleachers next to the football field.

At 4 o’clock, Bobby went to the center of the field to participate in the pregame coin toss as his teammates knelt on the sidelines, creating a pathway to the field.

He didn’t seem to process the announcement over the loudspeaker about a certain player’s dad coming home from Afghanistan until he saw his own father in uniform walking toward him on the field.

Rob embraced his son, lifting his 100-pound football-gear-clad body off the ground, and kissed his helmet as the crowd chanted “USA! USA!”

“It felt great. I haven’t seen him for a few months,” Bobby said.

Within a couple of minutes, the game started and Bobby was eager to get back to the field.

“I didn’t want to embarrass him too much, so I let him do his thing,” his dad said.

“That was amazing,” he added, his damp eyes betraying his emotion. “Definitely the highlight of my life.”

Bridget Balch: 540/374-5417


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