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Daddy's home

Sailor surprises daughter after eight-month tour in Afghanistan

June 03, 2010|By DON AINES
  • Niamh McDonnell has a moment with her father, U.S. Navy EO-2 Rhyan Tetrault, after he suprised her by making a visit to the Children's Learning Center at Hagerstown Community College. Tetrault returned from an eight-month tour in Afghanistan in April, but had been in Gulfport, Miss., training for his next deployment before getting leave to see his daughter.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- Niamh McDonnell paused in mid-cupcake Thursday afternoon, her eyes lighting up and her icing-covered mouth breaking into a smile.

"Daddy!" she yelled, getting up from the table and running to the uniformed man at the door of the Busy Bees classroom.

Although she is just 3 years old and had not seen Rhyan Tetrault in nearly a year, Niamh had no trouble recognizing her father when he walked into the room at the Children's Learning Center at Hagerstown Community College.

"The last time I saw her was before I deployed. The Fourth of July weekend," said Tetrault, who returned from an eight-month tour in Afghanistan in April, but had been in Gulfport, Miss., training for his next deployment before getting leave to see his daughter.

Tetrault, an E0-2 heavy equipment operator, said he had been assigned to Bagram Air Base and Camp Leatherneck during his deployment in Afghanistan. Despite being half a world away, he tried to keep in contact with Niamh, calling her frequently near her bedtime and listening to her sing bedtime songs.

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"She sings them all," Tetrault said. "She'll jump from one song to another without even stopping."

The surprise reunion was the idea of Niamh's mother, Patricia McDonnell, a student at HCC, and Niamh's preschool teacher, Denise Howell.

"I thought it would be nice. This is her comfort zone," McDonnell said.

Just before Tetrault walked in, Howell was talking to the students about the men and women in the armed forces. Niamh knew her father was overseas, though she had some trouble pronouncing Afghanistan.

"I wasn't sure she was going to recognize me," Tetrault said. "Is she going to be shy? Is she going to want to talk to me?"

"She is not shy at all," McDonnell said, although Niamh was doing a pretty good imitation of it, burying her face in her father's shoulder amid all the attention. The father remarked on how much she had grown since he last saw her.

"They just get so big so quick," he said.

"Every time I come up here, we always play in the pool. So when we leave here, we're going to go swimming," Tetrault said. The Elkton, Md., native also brought along Niamh's grandmother, Rose Tetrault.

Tetrault said he would spend a few days in Hagerstown before heading to Gulfport with Niamh for the rest of his leave. Niamh sounded excited that she would be taking an airplane trip on the way back from Mississippi.

Tetrault spent his time in Afghanistan working on large military construction projects in an environment where vegetation was sparse and sandstorms were an almost daily occurrence.

"You get more appreciation for the little things in life," Tetrault said, holding his little girl.

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