Family surprises soldier returning home for the holidays

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - A surprise two years in the making took place at Lambert Airport Thursday night, as Army Corporal Matt Westbrook returned from overseas to see his family for the holidays.

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be away from a close relative for two years, let alone if they’re fighting overseas in Afghanistan, risking their life every day.  But that’s been the reality for the Westbrook family from Trenton, Illinois, who waited for almost four hours at Lambert just to run into 25 year-old Matt’s arms.

Reunions like this are bittersweet because a lot happened since he’s been gone. Matt’s grandmother passed away, and he had to say goodbye over the telephone.   His daughter, Leighton, was born during his nine-month tour in Afghanistan.  “That nine months when he was in Afghanistan, I couldn’t wait. It was the most nerve racking thing for me in all my life,” says Matt’s mother, Kimberly.  When Matt got back to his home base in Germany, his wife and new daughter moved overseas to be with him.

It took two connecting flights and almost 26 hours for the three of them to make it back to St. Louis.  Meanwhile, Matt and his wife had no idea the entire family would be waiting.  The surprise was Matt’s aunt’s idea: dozens of relatives waiting with open arms.

“It was a little surprising,” the Army corporal says, “I didn’t expect to see everyone. I thought it was just going to be my mom, my dad and my sister.  I see all my close friends and family, and I’m really happy. I was really tiredand now I’m wide awake after seeing everyone.”

His mother adds, “This is the best Christmas present ever. I can’t ask for anything more from our family. I’m very blessed right now.”

“They say grown men don’t cry, they’re lying,” explains Matt’s father, Scott, “We Skype with him, we FaceTime, but when you don’t see him in person like we’re doing right now, get that human element, it’s different.”

“Not being able to have him here with me, to help me through things is tough, but I try to talk to him as much as I can,” adds Matt’s sister, Kendra.

Now, Matt and his family will enjoy two weeks together before he heads back to Germany.  Then in September, he’ll move a little closer to home, stationed in Alaska.