***image1***Staff Sgt. Christopher Sweeney shocked his wife and children today with a surprise visit “home for the holidays.”
His family had no idea he was the Home for the Holidays essay winner, earning a free airline ticket to spend his first Christmas with his children.
“This is the best present they could get for Christmas,” Sergeant Sweeney said just before his departure home. “My wife’s going to be speechless.”
Sergeant Sweeney, 735th Communications Squadron information systems controller, has never spent Christmas with his sons, Chris, 3, and Noah, 2. For three years in a row, the sergeant has either been deployed or stationed at remote locations. During his 2002 assignment at Osan Air Base, Korea, his wife, Melanie, remained in Colorado Springs, Colo., to seek treatment for their youngest son’s unknown lung ailment.
Since the birth of Noah, Sergeant Sweeney has seen his wife and children only four times.
“It’s hard on her, but it’s really hard on my oldest,” said Sergeant Sweeney, who has been at Ramstein for one and a half years. “The hardest part has been not seeing them grow up. I talk to them everyday and I see pictures, but it’s not the same.”
The last time he saw his sons was this summer. At the time he couldn’t physically hold them because he was still recovering from electrocution injuries suffered in technical school at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., in May.
“We were working on computer equipment and there was a lightening strike and the building wasn’t grounded,” he said. “The lightening went up through my foot, spine, out of my hand and into the monitor.”
The Sweeney family had accepted the fact that this would be another Christmas apart. They were unable to afford a trip due to the financial strains of maintaining two separate homes.
With no expectations of winning, he submitted a short letter to the Home for the Holidays contest that grants one single or unaccompanied servicemember a free trip home.
“You always think someone else has a better story. I honestly thought I had no chance,” he said.
Little did he know, his Combat Wingman, Senior Airman Nikole Lawson, 568th Security Forces Squadron, sent in a letter, too.
“I had to put myself in his shoes,” she said. “I saw it in his eyes that it really hurt him to be missing his family again for Christmas.”
When he was announced the winner during a live show, Sergeant Sweeney was completely stunned.
“He was almost in tears,” said Roy Mair, Exchange New Car Sales sales manager and Home for the Holidays sponsor.
Keeping the good news a secret from his wife has been tough.
“I had to think of all my lies ahead of time and I’ve had to keep all my stories straight with her,” he said.
During his 26-day visit home, Sergeant Sweeney will take Noah to a medical appointment where he hopes to get a long-awaited diagnosis on his son’s illness. He also plans to take the children skiing for the first time.
“I’m just going to spend as much time as I can with the kids. I want to live a normal life with them while I’m at home,” he said.