Cade O’Brien, a fourth-grader at Peterson Elementary School, discovered a new benefit of recycling on Thursday.
Cade was on his way to dump a bucket of recyclables in a tall bin in front of the gymnasium as part of an assembly to honor recycling efforts when he saw another large bin being wheeled in through the gym door.
This one was covered by balloons.
It didn’t take him long to spot his father, Army Sgt. Derek O’Brien, hidden behind the balloons, pushing the bin.
Cade dashed around it and threw his arms around his dad.
It was the first time he and his father had seen each other in person since O’Brien left for Afghanistan nine months ago.
The hug lasted a long time as the gym full of students, teachers, parents and others watched.
Tears were shed.
“Crazy,” Cade said later, asked for his reaction to the surprise reunion. He hadn’t expected his father to return until the end of the month.
They had seen each other only on their computers while O’Brien was stationed in Kandahar.
“Cade has grown a lot,” O’Brien said, hugging his son.
Cade, who said he had mostly missed camping and fishing with his father, was wearing dog tags around his neck. They were his, not his father’s, he said. He plans to serve in the military, too.
“His dad was in the military,” Cade said, “so we might as well keep the family thing going.”
O’Brien also met his other son, Braxton, for the first time in person on Thursday. Braxton is 4 months old and was born while O’Brien was in Afghanistan.
After the reunion at the school, the family drove to Fort Riley, where O’Brien had to report.
Before they left, Cade said he wasn’t going to mind missing the rest of the assembly.