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Airman returns home from Afghanistan to surprise wife during class at Wichita State

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 5:19 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 5:19 p.m.

Senior Airman Brett Combs has served under fire for the last six months, working for the U.S. Air Force behind the barbed wire of a base somewhere in Afghanistan.

For much of that six months, he’s plotted out how to pull a prank on a former waitress he asked out one night a few years back in Liberal, Kansas.

His work is dangerous, and not only because the base gets hit three or four times a day with mortar fire or rocket propelled grenades. “I build bombs.”

But thinking about the woman and the prank has kept his mind not only diverted but pleased, he said. Her name: Estefany Tabb.

He’d married her, on a date he can’t exactly remember, “sometime in February this year.”

On Wednesday, Combs picked up a big bundle of pink flowers, and nodded to his co-conspirators.

They included Wichita State University’s WuShock mascot and a grinning Steve Arnold, the associate dean of the WSU College of health Professions.

Then, with Wichita newspaper and television cameras recording it all, he followed Arnold into a crowded WSU classroom.

He strode strode briskly toward a young woman sitting unsuspecting in the classroom’s front row.

This whole thing, including the cameras, was his idea.

Tabb thought Combs was still in Afghanistan.

His motive: “She’s one-upped me a few times. Now it’s my turn.”

He’d plotted this out meticulously, calling WSU days in advance, showing up in Wichita on Sunday, hiding his presence from Tabb since then.

That was hard, he said. “Why did I marry her? For THOUSANDS of different reasons.”

They’ve known each other since middle school in Liberal. She’s only 21, a junior studying dental hygiene at WSU. He’s 22, getting shelled in Afghanistan because he couldn’t make himself like classes in college.

“When she sees me, No. 1, she’s either going to run right at me, or No. 2, she’ll sit there and break down and cry,”

“I’m betting No. 1.”

It was No. 1.

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

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