Military kids get surprise of lifetime at their school

Army Lt. Col. Jennifer Bager surprised her son, Ian, and daughter, Abbie, at Navy Hale Keiki School on April 15 after returning from deployment to Iraq.

Army Lt. Col. Jennifer Bager surprised her son, Ian, and daughter, Abbie, at Navy Hale Keiki School on April 15 after returning from deployment to Iraq.

Story and photo by Brister Thomas

Contributing Writer

Celebrating the Month of the Military Child just got better for second grader Ian Bager and his little sister Aberdeen (4 years old) when their mother surprised them at their school upon returning home from almost six months in Iraq.

During morning flag time on April 15, which was Purple Up day celebrating the military child, the Navy Hale Keiki School (NHKS) planned special activities recognizing military students. Aberdeen (Abbie) held the flag, and Ian was at the microphone discussing what it means to him to be a military child.

Then Shari Gulledge, school director, stepped up surrounded by the students to announce, “We have a very special mom this morning who has returned from deployment.”

It was then that Lt. Col Jennifer Bager strolled across the campus through the sea of purple to her shocked children who hugged her and held onto her. “Mommy?” said Abbie as she kept looking up at Bager and then grabbing her around the neck repeatedly. It was a moment that numerous military families have faced, yet the emotional impact witnessing such a reunion was overwhelming for many in attendance.

“This is a wonderful family that deserves every specialness,” said Monique Radizuner, Ian’s teacher. “I kept looking at Ian all morning just thinking, I hugged your momma this morning, and soon you will, too.”

Jennifer’s husband, Retired Army Lt. Col. Scott Bager, commented, “It’s been a new way to adjust to living with mom so far away. I thank NHKS for the continued support they give to so many families.”

She is the Tripler Army Medical Center chief of otolaryngology (ears, nose and throat) and was deployed to the 67th Forward Surgical Team in Erbil, Northern Iraq.

“It was actually quite beautiful there, ” said Jennifer. “We set up medical units on the runways at the airport and served the American and Allied forces,” she said.

“We were worried about her over there,” said her husband, who retired from the Army in October 2011. “It was the first time for her to be away from the family, and I was starting a new job. It was very different being the one left behind,” he shared.

The United States has more than 1.9 military children, according to the website. “Over the years, our school has learned the special needs of these unique families. We also celebrate the resiliency, the strength, the pride and the talent of each military child,” said Gulledge.

Despite postwar drawdowns, the United States has military personnel deployed in about 150 countries covering 75 percent of the world’s nations, according to The transition from Operation Enduring Freedom to Resolute Support commenced in January 2015. More than 10,000 troops have remained in Afghanistan and more will deploy to Iraq, Europe and the Pacific.

As long as the U.S. has troops overseas, there will be children waiting for parents to come home. Jennifer said that communication with her children was sometimes the hardest part.

“We were able to Skype, but I could not send any packages home.”

The reunited Bager family held hands all together to lead the Purple Up parade for Navy Hale Keiki School. When asked how they will spend their first day together again, Ian had a plan. “I want to eat ice cream and watch my new movies.”

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Category: News