PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A local father is home from deployment in the Middle East, just in time for the holidays. He made it back to surprise his son for a very special occasion, and only Eyewitness News was there to capture the special moment.
“I just can’t wait to just hug him. I’ve been gone a whole year,” U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Jose Rivera said.
Rivera is counting down the moments until he’s reunited with his little boy, 5-year-old Jaden, whom he hasn’t seen since last January.
“He keeps asking me when I’m coming home,” Rivera said.
Rivera, who is in the Army Reserve, had been deployed in Qatar since January.
When his wife Vanessa found out he’d be returning around the same time Jaden was going to be honored by his school — LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden — she quickly came up with an idea.
“I just wanted him to have a good homecoming,” Jaden’s mother, Vanessa Rivera, said.
Jaden and his kindergarten classmates were going to be inducted into the Alfredo Santiago Scholarship program, which provides full-tuition scholarships to Rutgers University when the students finish high school, and it was happening around the same time Jose would be coming home.
So without Jaden knowing, Vanessa managed to sneak Jose in.
As Jaden waited anxiously for his name to be called, what he didn’t know was that both of his parents were watching from above. When his turn came, Jose walked in.
Jaden was clearly overwhelmed.
@LEAPacademy today we are celebrating our students and families with the induction ceremony to the Alfredo Santiago Scholarship, plus a special surprise to a student whose father just returned from deployment. @GloriaBSantiago @Rutgers_Camden @CBSPhilly @BurrellTV pic.twitter.com/OvLdkZYEQx
— Rutgers CLC (@RutgersCLC) December 9, 2019
“Don’t cry, papa. I’m gonna be home, alright. I’m not going nowhere,” Jose tells Jayden.
“I didn’t expect him to cry but you could see how much he really missed him,” Vanessa Rivera said.
“I feel wonderful to be with my son after 11 months. I just can’t wait to spend time with my family,” Jose Rivera said.
The family is taking a trip to Disney World to celebrate, making this holiday season, all the more special.
— Janelle Burrell (@BurrellTV) December 10, 2019
Sgt. Rivera has been deployed three times to the Middle East, but he says this one was the hardest so far because his children are so young.
The LEAP Academy University Charter School raises money every year to fund the scholarship Jaden and his classmates got, allowing those kids to go to Rutgers for free if they maintain a 3.5 GPA.