NAPLES — Before she left for school Thursday morning, Kassandra Rodriguez told her mother that she had a hunch her father, Army Spec. Armondo Rodriguez, was coming home from Iraq that day.
“She’s been constantly asking where daddy is,” said Jasmine Rodriguez, Kassandra’s mother. “I told her, ‘I will try to get daddy home today. I promise.’”
Rodriguez made good on her word. Kassandra’s father surprised the prekindergarten student Thursday during recess at Lely Elementary School. Though his daughter knew he was coming home this month, she had no idea Thursday was the day he would be back with his family.
“Words can’t describe how this feels,” said Armondo, 24, after reuniting with his daughter. “I am just looking forward to spending every moment that I can with them.”
Unfortunately, the reunion will be short. Armondo Rodriguez will have two weeks to spend with his family in Naples before he has to return to Iraq for a year.
“It’s hard. There are kids over there and they remind you of your kids,” he said. “But somebody’s got to keep you free.”
Kassandra’s teacher, Nancy Titus, received a call from Jasmine Rodriguez that Armondo was coming home and was going to surprise Kassandra at school about an hour before the couple arrived at the school with 1-year-old daughter Lyssandra, her grandparents, aunts and cousins in tow.
“I knew he was coming home today, but I thought it was going to be later tonight,” said Jasmine Rodriguez. “Then I got a call this morning from him. He said he was in the Atlanta airport and asked me to pick him up.”
Titus and other staff members quickly jumped into action, painting a banner secretly to welcome him home. Teachers with classrooms alongside the prekindergarten playground brought their students outside to welcome Rodriguez home.
“We have been writing him letters in class. ... We want to make sure he has a warm welcome back,” said Titus. “You can tell she missed him. She talks about him all the time. ... She brought in photos of her dad and we talked to the class about him being a soldier. I know she is ready for today.”
As Rodriguez, dressed in his fatigues, came into view, Kassandra sprinted across the playground and jumped into his arms, a bright smile spreading across her face. But the smile dissolved quickly to tears of joy, which brought her mother to tears as well.
Kassandra shook her head when she said she was surprised and excited to have her dad back home. But, as a testament to the resilience of children, she quickly turned her attention back to what she had been doing, telling her father that she wanted to stay at school instead of going home with him.
Rodriguez wasn’t offended. He knows that he will have lots of time with his daughter over the next two weeks. The family is planning a trip to Sea World and Walt Disney World.
Jasmine Rodriguez said she plans to hold her husband tight for the next two weeks. She said his being home brings her happiness and joy.
“It is a great stress relief,” she said. “It is a great feeling to see him reunited with her.”