A soldier recently surprised his son by showing up to his first day of school as the school’s mascot before reuniting with his son after a year of deployment in the U.S. Army.
A video shared on social media captured the moment that Sgt. Perry Chronister, dressed as the school’s tiger mascot, waved to his son Eli’s class before removing his mask and reuniting with his second-grade son at Cuyahoga Falls City Schools.
After seeing that the school’s mascot was his father, Eli quickly jumped into his father’s arms. The video shows the two hugging as the teacher explains to other students that Eli’s dad had been gone away for a while.
“Welcome home, soldier! Thank you for your service!” the school district told Chronister, according to Fox 8 News.
According to WKYC News 3, Chronister was deployed in the Middle East as part of the Ohio Army National Guard 107th Calvary Regiment for a year. After returning home, the soldier wanted to surprise his son, age 7, for his first day of school at DeWitt Elementary.
“One of the teachers had a great idea. They said, ‘How about you put on the mascot costume, and we’ll have you come in and wave at the kids a little bit,’ and we did the big reveal,” Chronister said. “I was nervous, but I was also so happy; I was fighting back tears because I hadn’t seen him in a year. I had missed him so much.”
Chronister’s surprise reunion with his son was captured on video from multiple angles by school staff, showcasing the joy and excitement of Eli when his school mascot turned out to be his father.
Following the surprise, Eli said he was “shocked,” while Chronister described the reunion as “magical.”
“That was the best feeling, the best moment that I’ve had,” the soldier said.
According to WYKC News, Chronister said that he was not able to consistently talk to Eli while he was deployed overseas, which made the separation even more difficult over the past year.
“Where I was at, the Wi-Fi was not good,” he said. “And so some conversations, just some days, we would try and it wouldn’t work out and so there’d go long periods of time where I couldn’t see him, couldn’t talk and it was hard. It was very hard … It’s been a long year and I’m just so happy to be back and with my buddy.”