Son and deployed dad reunite in emotional Lewiston ROTC class

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LEWISTON — A Lewiston High School sophomore got a big surprise Tuesday when the “guest speaker” at his Air Force Junior ROTC class turned out to be his father, just home from Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Richard Lussier, a member of the Air National Guard 157th Refueling Wing based in Pease, N.H., returned Jan. 30 and hid a few days in Portland to surprise Caleb Lussier, 15, during an ROTC class.

As the class began, cadets, some in dress blues, listened to aerospace instructor Master Sgt. Tom Noury talk about developing a new club in which cadets would serve as academic coaches for other cadets.

Then Caleb’s father, wearing boots and military fatigues, walked in.

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Caleb looked across the room and saw his father. With a look of astonishment, Caleb rushed from his chair and ran into his father. Father and son hugged and smiled. The room broke into applause. News cameras circled them.

After a few seconds, Caleb relaxed his hug, looked at his father again as if to double check it was really him, then gave him another hug.

Caleb’s mother, Caren Lussier, his brother Jared, 20, and his sister Rebecca Hensley, 30, watched with big smiles. The couple’s oldest son, Christopher, 28, is serving in the Air Force stationed in Nebraska.

The students were told they’d be hearing a guest speaker in observance of the 25th anniversary of the school’s Air Force Junior ROTC program. After a few minutes with his family, Lussier gave his talk.

He told students that his job at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan was to unload and load “rolling stock” from huge planes arriving and leaving. The cargo included vehicles, helicopters, people, planes and personal belongings.

“It was fulfilling for me,” Lussier said. “Rain or shine, we’re out there.”

One cadet asked: “What was the main thing going through your head over there?”

“The job,” Lussier said. “Being aware of my surroundings.” He said deployed soldiers have an easier time than their families. “When we’re there, we’re very focused. Everyone worries about us being gone, but I think the families, the wives, have a harder job than we do.”

He said his family “did a really good job while I was gone.”

He served in Desert Storm and he missed the service, he said, explaining why he signed up for the guard a few years ago at age 49. He is proud to wear the uniform, Lussier told students.

Jared Lussier, who was an Air Force Junior ROTC cadet while at Lewiston High, also spoke to the class about making good choices. Jared is studying architecture at the University of Maine at Augusta.

Afterward, sophomore Cadet Corey Harlow, standing next to Caleb Lussier, said students were  expecting a more typical lecture.

“This is a far better surprise,” Harlow said. “To see the cadet smiling like that, the family reunited, it’s great. It’s a hard thing military families have to go through. It’s something I definitely respect them for.”

Caleb said he was “really surprised” to see his father in class. “He said he was coming home the 10th!” Caleb said.

“We stretched the truth a little bit,” his mother said.

Caleb said he was proud watching his father speak to the class. “I’d been talking to the colonel and sergeant about him being a guest speaker when he gets back.”

Caleb’s mother said her son isn’t a touchy-feely teen. “He doesn’t do hugs or kisses. For him to wrap his arms around his father, that’s huge.”

The father and son are close, she said. While her husband was gone, Caleb was “a good trouper. He kept his grades up.”

Both Caren and Richard Lussier work at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. The hospital has “been amazing” during his deployment, she said.

“Two or three departments sent care packages, she said. “The guys in maintenance sent him a care package.” Each package contained socks. “He’ll never have to buy socks again.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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