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Father surprises son with return from station overseas

Published 9:29am Monday, September 23, 2013

THARPTOWN – 9-year-old Cohen Burbank stared at his father as if he were seeing him for the very first time.

Those standing around him in the Tharptown Elementary School cafeteria Friday morning could visibly watch as first shock, then surprise, and then pure radiating joy spread across the boy’s face.

He grabbed his dad into a big bear hug and only tore his eyes away from his dad’s face long enough to bury his whole face in the jacket of his dad’s uniform.

As everyone in the cafeteria clapped and cheered, the boy continued to stare, eyes completely full of admiration, love, and the lingering shock, at his dad’s face – something he hadn’t seen except through a phone or computer screen for two whole years.

Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Burbank, a weapons technician for the United States Air Force, has been stationed in Okinawa, Japan for the past two years, and during that time, he has maintained steady contact with his son, Cohen, through various means of technology such as Skype and Facetime.

But he said nothing compared to seeing his son’s smiling face just a few feet away.

“It was amazing when I first saw him,” Burbank said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

Burbank, who is home on leave through Oct. 3, said he had planned to surprise his entire family when he finally made it back to Franklin County, but most of them found out he was heading back home.

“But I still wanted to be able to surprise Cohen,” he said.

“Being away from him is the hardest part of being stationed so far away.

“I enjoy what I do, and being in the Air Force has allowed me to travel while I serve, so that has been positive. But I’ve missed out on so much – birthdays, first days of school, holidays. It is definitely a sacrifice to not get to see him, but all this that I do, I do it for him.

“His college will be paid for when he is ready to go, and that will help him in the future.”

Cohen’s mother, Tracy Garrison, works at Tharptown High School and helped set up the surprise reunion.

“I knew this would be special for Cohen and something he would always remember,” Garrison said.

Cohen received hugs and high-fives from his fellow classmates at TES after the heartfelt reunion that had many people in the cafeteria scrambling for tissues, but the attention barely seemed to register with him.

“I’ve just missed him,” Cohen said, emphasizing the fact that playing video games, watching a ballgame or doing any other activity with his dad wasn’t as important as just simply having his dad there in person.

“This was so great. This is the best day ever.”

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