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Son and deployed dad reunite in emotional ROTC class

LEWISTON — A Lewiston High School sophomore got a big surprise Tuesday when the “guest speaker” at his Air Force Junior ROTC class turned out to be his father,  just home from Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Richard Lussier, a member of the Air National Guard 157th Refueling Wing based in Pease, N.H., actually returned on Jan. 30 and hid a few days in Portland to surprise Caleb Lussier, 15, during an ROTC class.

As the class began, cadets, some in dress blues, listened to aerospace instructor Master Sgt. Tom Noury talk about developing a new club where cadets would serve as academic coaches for other cadets.

Then Caleb's father, wearing boots and military fatigues, walked in.

Caleb looked across the room and saw his father. With a look of astonishment, Caleb rushed from his chair and ran into his father. Father and son hugged and smiled. The room broke into applause. News cameras circled them.

After a few seconds, Caleb relaxed his hug, looked at his father again as if to double check it was really him, then gave another hug. His smile and tears spoke volumes.

Caleb's mother, Caren Lussier, brother Jared, 20, and sister Rebecca Hensley, 30, watched with big smiles. The couple's oldest son, Christopher, 28, was not there; he's serving in the Air Force stationed in Nebraska.

The class was told they'd be hearing a guest speaker in observance of the 25th anniversary of the school's Air Force Jr. ROTC program. After a few minutes with his family, Lussier did serve as the guest speaker.

He shared with students that his job at the Bagram Airfield was to unload and load “rolling stock” from huge planes arriving and leaving. The cargo was everything from vehicles, helicopter, people, planes and personal belongings. “It was fulfilling for me,” Lussier said. “Rain or shine, we're out there.”

One cadet asked: “What was the main thing going through your head over there?”

“The job,” he said. “Being aware of my surroundings.” He said deployed soldiers have an easier time than their families. “When we're there we're very focused. “Everyone worries about us being gone, but I think the families, the wives, have a harder job than we do.” His family “did a really good job while I was gone.”

Cadets asked more questions — why he joined, what gave him the drive to serve? He served in Desert Storm. “I missed it,” he said, explaining why he signed up for the guard a few years ago at age 49. He has a lot of pride wearing the uniform, Lussier told students.

Jared Lussier, who was an Air Force Jr. ROTC cadet when at Lewiston High, also spoke to the class about making good choices. Jared is studying architecture at the University of Maine at Augusta.

Afterwards, sophomore Cadet Corey Harlow, standing next to Caleb, said students were  expecting a more typical lecture.

“This is a far better surprise,” Harlow said. “To see the cadet smiling like that, the family reunited, it's great. It's a hard thing military families have to go through. It's something I definitely respect them for.”

Caleb said he was “really surprised” to see his father in class. “He said he was coming home the 10th!” Caleb said.

“We stretched the truth a little bit,” his mother said.

He was proud watching his father speak to his class. “I been talking to the colonel and sergeant about him being a guest speaker when he gets back.”

Caleb's mother said her son isn't a touchy-feeling teen. “He doesn't do hugs or kisses. For him to wrap his arms around his father, that's huge.” The father and son are close, she said. While her husband was gone Caleb was “a good trooper. He kept his grades up.”

Both Caren and Richard Lussier work at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. The hospital has “been amazing” during his deployment, she said.

“Two or three departments sent care packages. The guys in maintenance sent him a care package.” Each package he got contained socks. “He'll never have to buy socks again.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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