Airman surprises family after deployment

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Olufemi Owolabi
  • 65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Aug. 4 began like every other day for Melissa Drago, the spouse of a 65th Security Forces Squadron deployed defender.

After a long hike, which took almost all day, she planned to go to the airport to welcome the "Tibbals" family.

As the 65th SFS key spouse, welcoming a new family to Lajes is a crucial tradition for Melissa, so she had to make herself available, even though the arrival notice was said to be "last-minute."

She arrived at the airport holding a welcome card for the Tibbals in one hand, and her 11-month-old daughter in the other. Suddenly, the visit took a dramatically different turn. She was surprised to see her husband, Master Sgt. Nikki Drago, who had been deployed for seven months and was expected back home in a few weeks.

"I was shocked! So happy, so surprised -- I hadn't suspected a thing," Mrs. Drago said. "He was standing next to me talking to our daughter in my arms, and I had to focus and realize that I had been waiting for this moment for seven months now ... to see her reaction to her daddy, and I was missing it because I was in such a shock!"

Sergeant Drago and Master Sgt. Daniel Guzman, the 65th SFS first sergeant, planned the surprise reunion.

After he requested to surprise his wife with his return, Guzman and the unit's sponsor program coordinator cooked up a story about an inbound family coming in from Germany.

"I requested for our key spouse, Melissa, to come out and help us welcome the new family into our unit," Guzman said. "She bought into it since this is the summer PCS season, and we have lots of families coming and going from Lajes. Melissa is also a very involved key spouse, and I figured she would make every effort to attend and be there to welcome in the new security forces family."

Melissa's neighbor, Cory, wife of Master Sgt. Dominic Dumbra, 65th Medical Group first sergeant, was also an accomplice in the plan to ensure she was available at the airport on that day for the new members' arrival.

After the shock factor, all Melissa could say was, "You got me!"

"I felt 'punked' completely," Mrs. Drago said.

Because of her surprise, she can't remember her first words to her husband, but she recalls saying, "I thought you were in a tent with poor internet?"

But her husband only smirked and said, "That's why I haven't talked to you today. I've been flying for two days."

Mrs. Drago gave their 11-month-old daughter to her husband. "I know I said 'Carmen this is your daddy, say hi daddy, welcome home.'"

When Mrs. Drago was pregnant with their daughter, her husband was in Korea the entire time. Sergeant Drago came back, and after spending just a few weeks together with his wife, he deployed to the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan.

"Like many other military dads, he missed ultrasound appointments and her first coos and crawls," Mrs. Drago said. "Carmen is days shy of taking her first steps, and I really wanted him here for that. It's great to know he will be here for one of her greatest milestones."

The surprise reunion, according to Mrs. Drago, made everything "even more memorable."

"Now I just have to figure out what to do with the 'welcome-home-daddy' balloons, and where Carmen should wear her welcome-home-daddy dress," she added.

Nikki Drago's arrival came just in time for his daughter's first birthday, which the family plans to celebrate in New Jersey.

"We plan to take her to her first NFL football game, which just happens to be mommy's New York Giants versus daddy's St. Louis Rams at home! Go Big Blue! We can't wait," Mrs. Drago said.