DEL CITY — In the end, even the best-laid plans can't fool a 5-year-old who is on his toes.
Army Sgt. Chad Chudoba had planned to surprise his son Isaac at Del City Elementary School on Monday by reading to his class while wearing a panther suit, the school's mascot. Chudoba had been in Afghanistan for nine months.
The plan went fine until Isaac thought he recognized his dad's voice through the suit. Then there was the dead giveaway.
“I knew it was him because the hands looked like his hands,” Isaac said.
As Chudoba took off the head of the panther costume, Isaac stood up and walked toward his dad, sat on his lap and grabbed his hand. He then began the business of getting reacquainted with his father by telling him about his dinosaur birthday party and showing his dad all the things his new watch can do as his mother, Rachel, looked on.
Even if his father's voice raised suspicions, it was a picture-perfect reunion for the family. Chudoba had left for Afghanistan just before Christmas. They were able to see each other via weekly Skype sessions, but there's no substitute for the real thing.
“It's horrible being away from each other but that's something we accept when we put on the uniform,” Chudoba said.
Chudoba missed Isaac's most recent birthday and also a growth spurt.
“It was awesome,” Chudoba said of the reunion. “I missed my boy. He looks a lot bigger. He's grown at least five inches.”
Isaac said he planned to play at their house with his dad and maybe go on a camping trip soon. This was Chudoba's first deployment and he's still getting used to what it feels like to return.
“I'm in shock, almost,” he said. “It's surreal. I can't believe I'm home.”