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CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Pvt. Benjamin Rankin III thought he was being interviewed Thursday for a public affairs video about his tank unit when he noticed a surprise visitor standing nearby — his father had flown in from Kentucky to help celebrate his 25th birthday.

“I had no clue,” Rankin said. “When I finally took a look to see who was moving next to me (I said to myself), ‘Oh wait, that’s my dad. Wait. What?’”

Before sharing a warm embrace, the soldier’s initial matter-of-fact reaction came as no surprise to his father.

“It was typical of him just to see it, gauge it and then go ahead and react to it,” Benjamin Rankin Jr. said.

But the son said that despite what he called his “calm, calculated composure” throughout the surprise reunion, he was touched.

“Of course I’m excited, it’s my dad,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

The reunion makes for a dual celebration: Friday is the son’s birthday, and Father’s Day follows on Sunday.

When the private was asked what he planned to get his father, the elder Rankin interjected: “I’ve already got it. I got to see him.”

Reunions between soldiers and their families have become a YouTube sensation and a TV news staple in recent years, but they almost always involve servicemembers traveling to surprise relatives.

“The reverse irony was pretty keen – the civilian dad showing up for the military son this time,” the elder Rankin said.

The Rankins, from Campbellsburg, Ky., had not seen each other since the son left in late January for his first duty assignment in South Korea, where he is on a tank crew with the Army 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment’s Delta Co.

The elder Rankin — a former soldier who works as a crane operator at a steel mill — said he had been planning the surprise since “just right before his graduation, when he found out he was coming to Korea.”

“His first duty station, his first professional job out away — I just wanted to give him a good pat on the back,” the father said.

Rankin is the youngest of four children. His mother, Ellen, didn’t come because there were “too many layovers,” the elder Rankin said.

The private now realizes there were clues that something was up. Others took an unusual interest in his plans for the days ahead, and he was scratching his head wondering why someone volunteered to trade for his weekend shift.

“I knew nothing about this,” he said.

His platoon leader, 1st Lt. Edgar Pabon, said most of his charges were in on the plan, and he called it more than just a moment for a father and son.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” he said. “I think it helps with morale to know that other personnel have gone out of their way to help with the surprise, that everybody obviously remembered about his birthday, and we’re helping to make sure he has a good birthday weekend.”


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