Every night, 7-year-old Lily Garcia makes a wish upon a star.
“That Daddy would come home early,” she said.
Her dad, U.S. Army Maj. Pete Garcia, deployed to Afghanistan in July. She wasn’t expecting his return until April.
But Monday, Lily’s wish came true.
As part of their lesson on citizenship, Lily and the rest of the second grade at Carson Elementary huddled into a classroom to visit via Skype with Maj. Garcia, who they were told was in Afghanistan. Students even located the country on a map for an idea of its distance from Decatur.
Garcia talked to the students about his job as a medevac pilot, flying medics in Black Hawk helicopters.
“You know the ambulances you sometimes see on the road?,” Garcia asked the students. “Well it’s like that, only mine flies instead of drives.”
When asked why, Garcia offered the following explanation:
“Where we fly, there are no roads, but we have to be able to get places fast to pick up the wounded soldiers,” he said. “It’s faster to go by air than to drive.”
Garcia also told the students about attending flight school in Alabama and cramming two years of college into a year.
“It’s like if you all learned everything you learned in first grade and second grade in just one year,” he said.
He talked about the 12-hour time difference, and he explained how he joined the military after high school, then he went to college, and how after 9/11 he decided to re-enlist.
Lily listened quietly as her dad conversed with her classmates. During a break in conversation, she whispered, “I can’t wait for you to come back.”
For a few more minutes the students continued visiting with the soldier, who emphasized the importance of service to our country.
“Whether it’s fighting forest fires or fighting the bad guys, it’s important that we volunteer to serve our country,” he said.
The visit wrapped up, and the call ended. Lily, who was fighting back tears, ran to her mom.
Her mom, Rachell, had told Lily that she and other family members – including Lily’s sisters Alivia, 2, and Ella, 10 months – wanted to be there to watch them Skype.
Rachell coaxed her daughter into joining the rest of her classmates seated on the floor. As Lily’s teacher, Kristi Smyers, recapped what Garcia shared and how it applied to good citizenship, she was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“We have another visitor who exhibits the characteristics of good citizenship,” Principal Stephanie Quarles told the students.
In walked Maj. Garcia.
A confused Lily sat dazzled for a few seconds. As soon as it registered, she hopped up and ran into the arms of her dad, tightly hugging his neck.
Rachell admited to her daughter that her trip to Kansas last week was for more than to sign papers for a house on the base, where the family is to relocate after Christmas.
“I actually went and picked Daddy up from the airport,” she told Lily. “He’s been staying at the hotel.”
Garcia admitted it was hard to stay away those three days, but he wanted to make his return special for her.
“I feel happy,” Lily said, clinging to her dad. “This is going to be the best Thanksgiving ever.”