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Chad Chudoba and son, Isaac, hug after being re-united. U.S. Army Sgt. Chad Chudoba arrived at Del City Elementary School Monday morning, Sep. 30, 2013, to see his five year-old son for the first time in more than nine months. Before re-uniting with his son, Sgt. Chudoba disguised himself as the school's mascot, stepping into a full-body panther costume and reading a book to his son, Isaac's kindergarten classmates who had assembled on the floor of the school's library for story time. When he finished the story, Sgt. Chudoba rose from the small chair and removed the head of the mascot and told the giggling kindergarteners he wasn't really a panther, and proudly announced, "I am really Isaac's dad." Then, he extended his arm toward the boy wearing rolled-up jeans and a western style, pearl-snap shirt near the front of the group, and clasped his son's small hand into his as he pulled the boy onto his lap and hugged him.
Chudoba is a member of the Army's 1245th transportation company and returned Saturday after serving with his unit in Afghanistan for 9 months. After the reunion, the younger Chudoba admitted he thought the voice of the panther sounded much like his dad's, but the biggest clue for the kindergartener that this was no ordinary mascot were its hands. He told his dad he recognized his hands as he listened to the story and watch the mascot turn the pages of the book. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman.