'I tear up every time I watch it': Soldier revels in return to family routines after surprise taekwondo reunion with son

A video screen grab shows Staff Sergeant Rob Cesternino hugging his son, Luca.


By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Published: March 25, 2019

Things are slowly returning to normal after Staff Sgt. Rob Cesternino and his 9-year-old son, Luca, were reunited via taekwondo last week after the elder Cesternino’s 10-month deployment to the Middle East.

The resulting video, showing blindfolded Luca in Lebanon, Tenn., sparring with instructors and his dad taking over to surprise him, has since been viewed millions of times in various versions. President Donald Trump and Sean “Diddy” Combs retweeted the video, which shows Luca excitedly ripping off the blindfold and the father and son hugging.

“When you look at it, what dad doesn’t melt when they hear their kid like that?” Rob Cesternino said. “I’m not an outwardly emotional person – that’s just how I was raised – but I tear up every time I see it.”


His deployment with the Tennessee Army National Guard's 230th Sustainment Brigade took him to Fort Hood, Texas, and then to Kuwait. During his deployment, he spent time in Jordan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom Spartan Shield and southern Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. Rob Cesternino, his wife, Leah, and several friends kept his return home quiet for a day to surprise Luca.

Rob Cesternino said that returning to familiar routines has been the best part of being back, including working out, grabbing doughnuts for Luca and being there to wake him up, and even attending a City Council meeting (he’s a former two-term councilor). Of course, there have been some not-so-routine moments, such as a family appearance on Fox and Friends to discuss the video.

Speaking of the March 18 video, what tipped Luca off that it was his dad he was sparring against?

“When he said, ‘Hey Shib.’ He always used to call me Shib when I was little. He wanted to nickname me, so he called me Shib,” Luca said.

Rob Cesternino said the nickname came from when his son used to sing the Georgia Satellites’ “Hippy Hippy Shakes” as the “Shibby Shibby Shakes” when he was younger. The nickname stuck.

Rob Cesternino said he was surprised by all the attention the video drew.

"It's been really cool; I got my 15 minutes of fame," he said. "It would be really cool if I could now unpack my gear.

"Right now, my primary focus is just paying my wife and my son back for everything they've been through, and they've done it all.”

Information from this story was drawn from a story by Jared Felkins of The Lebanon Democrat via Tribune News Service.

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