Sgt. 1st Class Tim Gleason got a hero's welcome when he arrived home to South Elgin Wednesday, and the biggest thrill for the Army National Guard soldier was seeing his four sons, one of whom was born during his recent deployment to Kuwait.
Gleason and his wife, Katie, arranged to surprise their oldest son, T.J., where he was in his kindergarten class at Corron Elementary School in South Elgin. The school also held a ceremony for Gleason that included the police and fire departments, motorcycles from the Warriors' Watch group, and students waving flags as he arrived.
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"We thought we would try to make a special day for him also," Gleason said of his son. "They had the whole school outside, it was really nice."
The three youngest boys joined their mother for the arrival ceremony at Midway Airport earlier in the day, and despite a line set up to keep civilians from the airfield when the soldiers arrived, the excitement was too much for their 3-year-old son Tyler.
"As soon as I came off the bus he sprinted out and gave me a big hug," Gleason said. "Then we had to get in formation to close out the deployment. I actually took him in formation with me. It was pretty cool."
Thanks to technology, Gleason was able to see his wife and kids frequently using video chat software.
"We saw each other a lot. I called home every other day or so," he said. "But I'm just that guy on the screen. When you come home in person you don't know how they're going to react, or if they're old enough to know. Tyler ran out and gave me a real big hug and wouldn't let go of my neck. It was an emotional time."
T.J. was born during his father's first deployment in 2007, and the Gleasons' fourth son, Ian, now 10 months, was born two weeks after he departed for his second last year.
"I figured he wouldn't want anything to do with me," he said, "but he came to me right away and put his head on my shoulder. He took to me pretty good."
Gleason was one of about 175 Army National Guard soldiers with the 106th Aviation Regiment and 935th Aviation Support who returned to Midway just before noon Wednesday.
The soldiers were mobilized in June 2012.