Danielle Vetterline stared at the sea of 270 soldiers marching across Cooper Field with a wide smile across her face.
“Now it’s real,” she said holding her 2-year-old daughter, Jillian.
“I wanna see Daddy,” Jillian said stretching her neck to see over the crowd.
The family waited nine months for Sgt. Robert Vetterline Jr. to return from a deployment to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Standing nearby in the stands were Vetterline’s two older children, Joseph, 9, and Kendra, 7, as well as a surprise guest — his dad, Bob Vetterline, down from Maine.
It was nearly 10 p.m. once the soldiers were released from formation, and the Vetterlines stood waiting for their soldier to find them in the dark. Eventually Danielle Vetterline ran to her husband and brought him to the children. While Joseph and Kendra went straight to their dad, Jillian hesitated. When Robert Vetterline deployed, she was still in diapers and hardly talking.
“She’s twice the size of when I left,” he said.
Then tears filled the sergeant’s eyes as he saw his dad standing there. It had been more than a year since the two had seen each other.
“I don’t really know how to describe that,” Robert Vetterline said. “It’s overwhelming.”
The family planned the surprise last minute, but Bob Vetterline said it was all worth it to see the “priceless” look on his son’s face.
“It’s not very often you pull something over on him,” he said.
Danielle Vetterline stood with her hands over her face to contain her excitement of seeing her family back together.
“I’m excited for them,” she said as her children vied for their dad’s attention. “They’ve waited, too, and they had to go through it all, too. I had my friends to talk to, but ... they don’t get it.”