Fort Myers soldier comes back home to holiday light surprise

Grace Graff and daughter Gabby Graff celebrate Staff Sgt. Thomas Graff's homecoming from an 11-month tour in Iraq with help from Florida Power & Light Company. The utility provided an energy-efficient holiday makeover for the family home, using LED lights that are 90 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent lights. Contributed by Esther Griego

Grace Graff and daughter Gabby Graff celebrate Staff Sgt. Thomas Graff's homecoming from an 11-month tour in Iraq with help from Florida Power & Light Company. The utility provided an energy-efficient holiday makeover for the family home, using LED lights that are 90 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent lights. Contributed by Esther Griego

— Some unexpected holiday cheer greeted a Southwest Florida soldier Wednesday, after returning home from Iraq.

Just days after Staff Sgt. Thomas Graff arrived stateside following an 11 month tour in Iraq as part of the National Guard, some dedicated “elves” helped his family surprise him with a fully-lit home in energy-efficient twinkling holiday lights, festive decorations and a new energy-saving family laptop.

The holiday décor makeover was made possible by FPL and West Palm Beach-based nonprofit Forgotten Soldiers Outreach.

For Graff’s wife, Grace, the fact that someone thought of her family was overwhelming.

National Guard Families — unlike military families on active bases — are spread throughout the state, said Grace Graff.

“It’s really, really humbling to be remembered to this kind of degree,” she said. “I can see everyone has been working very hard.”

But the biggest gift she and her 1-year-old daughter Gabriela are getting this Christmas is the return of her husband in time for the holidays.

“It’s been a very long year,” Grace Graff, 32, said likening the wait to the anticipation a family has prior to the arrival of a new baby.

Thomas Graff is part of the historic Delta Company 1st Battalion 124th Infantry — the largest single-unit mobilization of the Florida National Guard since World War II.

The soldiers are returning home for the first time in 11 months after logging more than 1 million miles on the dangerous roads of Iraq.

Grace Graff said her husband arrived in Georgia roughly a week ago, but was not scheduled to return to Southwest Florida until Wednesday.

“It’s been tough to be in the same time zone and not being able to be with each other,” she said.

On Wednesday afternoon, FPL decorated the Graff’s Fort Myers home with lights on the outside of the house as well as the trees, bushes and other parts of the front yard.

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