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Soldier surprises 6-year-old daughter with homecoming
On his second day back from Iraq, Army Spc. Jose Arturo Valencia, slipped into a 60-pound firefighter turnout to surprise his 6-year-old daughter during her class’ field trip to the Porterville fire station.
During a simulated animal rescue and before an audience of mesmerized first-graders, Valencia, face mask and all, bolted into the building with hose in hand, rescued an over-sized stuffed teddy bear and handed it to his daughter, Alexia.
When Valencia removed the mask, there was surprise, followed by a prolonged hug and emotional moments.
“It’s overwhelming,” the 26-year-old father of two said, tears welling from his eyes. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Friday’s surprise had been two months in the making, and was orchestrated by Alexia’s teacher, Jackie Everett.
Everett, who teaches at Belleview Elementary School, said she wanted the soldier’s homecoming to be a moment Alexia could remember for the rest of her life.
“She misses her dad a lot,” Everett said. “I just wanted to really provide her a memory of when her dad came home and it be a different situation than meeting him at the airport.”
Valencia, who joined the Army in 2008 and serves as a motor transport operator, was deployed last November and last saw his family in July when he came home for a two-week vacation.
He arrived home on Thursday, and was forced to wait until Friday afternoon to see his daughter, who spent the night at her grandmother’s house.
“It’s hard,” Valencia said about being away from his daughter when stationed overseas.
“Sometimes it’s easier when you sit down by yourself and cry, wishing you were back home. There’s hardly any remedy, you just try to deal with being away and getting back home safe.”
Valencia’s wife of seven years, Adriana Valencia, said her husband’s absence has similarly affected their daughter.
“She’s a daddy’s little girl — for her, daddy is everything,” she said. “There have been days or weeks when she has cried her eyes out asking, ‘Where is he? Why is he gone?’”
On Friday, however, those questions were irrelevant.
“I was very excited,” Alexia said about seeing the face behind the mask, “because I was glad to see him.”
Although his stay will last only until March, when he will be redeployed to Afghanistan, the soldier focused on the present.
“I’m finally here and it feels really good,” he said. “I’m ready to go spend time with my family.”
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, ext. 1047 or email@example.com.