Karson Zimmerman thought Wednesday was just another school day. Then a face appeared in his classroom doorway he had not seen in a year except over a computer or phone screen.
His classmates at …
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His classmates at Ebenezer Middle School stayed silent as they watched father and son reunite, son wrapping his arms around father's waist, burying his face into the Airman Battle Uniform.
Karson, a sixth-grader, and his brother, Gavyn, who is in ninth grade at Crestwood High School, are used to their father going away. When Master Sgt. Steven Zimmerman returned home to surprise his sons at school on Wednesday from a yearlong remote deployment in Korea, he ended his seventh deployment. This time was different.
"It's rough, especially leaving them for long amounts of time at this age," Zimmerman said. "They're changing so much. School, work, sports, just growing, learning. It's a rough time. That's the roughest part of it now."
Zimmerman and his wife, Melanie, the brainchild of the surprise plan, first went to Crestwood to pick up Gavyn.
"I was surprised because my mom picked me up and said I was just being dismissed, and I saw my dad and was happy," Gavyn said.
The Zimmermans have been at Shaw Air Force Base for 11 years. Over the course of his deployments, a lot of basketball and soccer games were watched over FaceTime.
"He's never been gone like that whenever I was older," said the youngest Zimmerman, straining to keep his voice leveled from emotion.
Karson said the hardest part of his father being gone is "having to go places and with someone else taking one of us to games so Mom and him couldn't see both of us."
Now that the family is together again, Melanie Zimmerman said the surprise was surreal.
"It doesn't feel real because it's been so long," she said, one arm around Karson, the other wrapped around her husband, whose hand stayed on his oldest son's shoulder. "It was hard [to carry out the surprise] because I don't keep secrets very well. I tend to accidentally say something, but I managed."
After the hugs — and probably more tears — each son knows what he wants to do first with his dad.
"I'll probably play my PS4 with him," Karson said.
Gavyn? Basketball. No FaceTime included.
"Being away from family, they get me through. It gives you something...the whole reason you're doing the job...," said Steven Zimmerman, trying to find adequate words to describe what his family means to him — sometimes the simple words are all you need. "It's something to come back to."
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