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Military son surprises mother, family
U.S. Navy DCFM David Bratten knows how to keep a secret.
After disappointing his mother a few times with cancelled leaves and learning his crew was officially, finally, going home, Bratten decided to not say a word and surprise her.
“Am I in the right house?” he asked as he opened the door to his sister’s house where his mother was visiting Thursday night.
His mother, Blanca Rodriguez, said she was in the nursery with her granddaughter when she heard the familiar voice. The words made her freeze in place for a few seconds before she ran out.
“I was so excited. I had such a sense of relief,” Rodriguez said. “I was looking at the nursery when I heard his voice. My heart skipped. It sounded like him but it also sounded a little different. I wasn’t sure. Then I saw him and I was in shock. I ran and almost fell on my way.”
Bratten, a 2007 Granite Hills High School graduate, steadied her as she ran to his arms, hugging him and crying as she welcomed him home.
His sister, Nichole Wall, cried too, as little brother Joseph, 11, 5-month-old niece, Amery Wall, and brother-in-law Brian Wall, looked on along with family friend Jackie Segura.
“I was so happy for mom. This was always her baby boy. I saw her fears. I saw her tears,” Nichole Wall said. “Now that I’m a mom, I understand. As a parent, you’re always loving your child. We are a tight, close family. Our hearts were just relieved to have him back.”
Bratten had been away for more than a year.
“He was the only man in the house. He helped me raise his little brother,” Rodriguez said. “He kept us all together and took care of us even while he was away.”
Bratten bought his mother a television, his little brother toys and his sister a crib and dresser for the new baby he had not even met yet.
The entire trip was orchestrated with a little help from Brian Wall — the only family member who knew that Bratten was on his way home.
“After he left, something was missing out of my heart,” his mother said through tears. “He’s home now. My heart is complete.”
Bratten joined the U.S. Navy in April of 2010. He left on Nov. 15, 2011, to Bahrain, a small island off the coast of Saudi Arabia. He was scheduled to return in May but on May 5 learned his deployment was extended due to hostile threats from Iran.
“We were in the straits and the object of our ship was to be a minesweeper,” Bratten said. “We maintained and patrolled the straits.”
Bratten’s crew of approximately 60 was told they could leave in August. But August turned to September and September to October.
In the meantime, his mother kept changing her vacation time, with the understanding from her accommodating boss, from May to August to early November.
Since the exact day was unknown, Bratten would simply tell his mother that he would see her “soon.”
“I knew he was coming but we didn’t know when. I have not slept for two weeks. Each noise in the middle of the night would awaken me, ‘Is that him? Is that him?’ I’d ask myself,” she said. “I just didn’t know when.”
Then, the crew was given more bad news. There was a proposal made to keep the crew in the Middle East until 2014.
“When I finally found out we were coming home, it was a sigh of relief,” Bratten said. “But there was still constant doubt. Nobody really believed it. But then the day came and suddenly everything was rushed. I kept asking myself, ‘Is this really happening?’ We just couldn’t believe it until we landed at San Diego.”
When he arrived, the Navy had festivities waiting.
“I felt a little bad because my mom wasn’t there,” Bratten said. “But, I didn’t tell her because that’s really for wives and children. All I wanted was to come home — to Porterville. I didn’t want to hang around there. I just wanted to get home.”
His cousin and best friend picked him up for the long drive home.
“I was anxious and excited and nervous all at once,” Bratten said. “When you go on deployment, your life here goes on hold. It’s a good feeling to have your mom hugging you. It felt so good. It was so nice to be home. So nice to be back in a familiar area.”
The family gathered Friday morning for breakfast.
“He already told us what he wants the most is beans and homemade flour tortillas,” said his great-aunt Lupe Cornejo.
The family is planning a big celebration with family and friends and all of his favorite home-cooked food Sunday night.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.