Soldier’s return a special Valentine
For Miranda Gutierrez, a first-grader at St. Damian School in Oak Forest, summer arrived early on Valentine’s Day.
Her father, deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, completed his tour of duty earlier than expected, and surprised the 6-year-old during her class party Thursday.
After Miranda was told only that a “special Valentine” had arrived for her, Sgt. Brian Gutierrez, dressed in his fatigues, stepped into the classroom. The girl, sitting at her desk, screamed “Daddy,” sprinted toward him and threw her arms around him.
He’d been overseas for six months, and Miranda said she’d missed her dad “a lot” because it was a nighttime ritual for him to read her a bedtime story. She said she wanted to plan a party to welcome him home.
“I’m happy all right,” Miranda said.
The girl said she “thought he was going to come back soon,” but her mom had told her that Dad wasn’t due to return until the summer.
Gutierrez, a Military Police officer, said the scope of his unit’s mission had changed, allowing him to come home early. He hadn’t expected to end his tour until after the end of the school year.
“I’m glad I’m home early,” he said before visiting his daughter’s classroom. “I thought I would miss the whole first grade.”
Gutierrez said surprising his daughter at school was a natural idea.
“You see all the soldiers doing this on TV,” he said.
Miranda’s teacher, Cindy Rak, said she didn’t know about the surprise until just minutes before the soldier walked into the room.
“I was in shock myself,” she said.
Rak said Miranda would regularly ask her classmates to remember her dad in their prayers, and that she got to talk to him by phone during a school Christmas party last year.
“She just loved that,” Rak said.
Gutierrez, 30, is a member of the National Guard and works as a police officer in Burr Ridge. He said he’ll return to that job in about 1 1/2 weeks.
He enlisted in the Army in April 2000, partly because he wanted to be a cop and military experience looks good on a resume.
“Plus I have a lot of pride in my country,” he said.
He and his wife, Maritza, and their daughter live in Chicago’s McKinley Park community. Gutierrez said the food from home, especially Mexican food prepared by his wife, was one of the things he missed the most.
Any special homecoming meal in the works?
“Hopefully enchiladas,” he said, casting a glance in his wife’s direction.