IRONDEQUOIT — In Mary Ann Wasnock’s preschool class at Christ the King School, students have been working on such kindergarten-readiness skills as recognizing letters and numbers.
Over a snack of animal crackers Friday, March 18, 5-year-old Julia Ahlquist showed off her recognition skills when her father unexpectedly walked through the door of her classroom and said, "Hello."
It was 18 days before she expected her father, Wayne Ahlquist, to arrive home from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. When she saw him in her classroom, Julia turned nearly the color of the red shirt she was wearing. For a moment, she froze while the television cameras that had mysteriously invaded her classroom that morning pointed right at her.
With the urging of her father’s "Come here," Julia leapt out of her seat and into his arms, giving a little kick of her feet as if she were swimming into his hug.
For a few moments, Julia was speechless, but her joy was clear in her little giggles as she swung from her dad’s hands. Eventually she managed to verbalize, "Welcome home."
"I’m home forever," he told Julia.
Ahlquist, who has been deployed four times during his 26-year Army career, will soon be retiring as a master sergeant. During his most recent deployment with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, First Brigade Combat Team, he was a senior human resources noncommissioned officer. He was in northern Afghanistan, near Mazar-i-Sharif, where troops were training Afghan security forces so they can take over security responsibilities in the country.
"While we were there, we were able to help establish a lot of infrastructure and security in that region to make it safer for the people there," Ahlquist said.
Upon returning to Irondequoit, Ahlquist will be able to live in his house full time, for the first time since the family moved into their home in July 2009. For about eight months before being deployed, he lived at Fort Drum during the week and returned home only on weekends.
"We are ready to be a family again," said his wife, Trish Ahlquist.
In addition to Julia, the couple also have a son, Joe, 7, who was surprised earlier in the day at Colebrook School in the West Irondequoit School District.
"This was my fourth deployment but my first deployment with these two at this age," said Wayne Ahlquist, who was last at home for a little rest and relaxation in October. "This (deployment) was by far the most difficult."
Cards, gifts and boxes of items from both of his children’s classes helped Ahlquist to endure the separation. He also kept up with what was going on at home through e-mails and phone calls.
"He would e-mail Julia two to three times a week in the classroom, and I read them to Julia and helped her reply," said Wasnock, her teacher, noting that the surprise visit had been several weeks in the making.
Now that they are back together, the family plans to spend time playing and will soon travel to Spain.
"How much did you miss me?" Ahlquist asked his daughter.
"One hundred percent," she said.
As dad sat with his daughter on his lap to talk to her classmates, she showed him a sign in American Sign Language that she had just learned: "Amen."
It seemed like a response to an answered prayer.