BLAKE SEBRING: Komets help soldier give daughter Thanksgiving surprise

Army Sergeant First Class Brian Hunt and his daughter Bailey stand during the national anthem before Thursday's Komets game. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Faux, Eye to Eye Photos)

Army Sergeant First Class Brian Hunt and his daughter Bailey stand during the national anthem before Thursday's Komets game. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Faux, Eye to Eye Photos)

Have you ever watched on TV as a service member shocks a relative with a surprise return and then wondered what it would be like to see that in person?

At Thursday night’s annual Thanksgiving Komets game, United States Army Sergeant First Class Brian Hunt surprised his daughter Bailey and all 7,489 Memorial Coliseum fans. She broke down, he broke down and so did most of the fans who couldn’t believe how lucky they were to witness the emotional moment.

As part of the team’s Hometown Hero pregame recognition, 12-year-old Carroll Middle School 7th grader Bailey Hunt went onto the ice for the presentation.

“I was told that somebody had nominated him, but he was in Japan and I was just going to stand in his place,” Bailey said. “I was just told I’d have to stand out there, and I thought, `OK, cool I can do that.’ “

Public address announcer Larry Schmitt concluded the short ceremony by asking Bailey to look up at the video board where the Komets had a surprise for her. A video Brian had recorded Wednesday said that even though he knows Bailey hates being recognized for things like this, he felt she deserved a hand because she’s done a lot, including moving schools five times.

Then Brian walked out behind her as a disbelieving Bailey saw on the video board.

“I was really confused at first because I saw him walking in on the big screen and I looked to the other end,” Bailey said. “I was like, `Ohhh!’ Immediately, I haven’t seen him in so long, I just wanted to see him.”

She jumped into his arms for a massive hug as the crowd members applauded or reached for something to dry their eyes.

Father and daughter had not seen each other since July, though they Facetime at least twice a week. As an operations adviser with the asymmetric warfare group, he works throughout Southeast Asia. He emailed the Komets about a month ago to ask about the possibility of surprising Bailey who said her dad’s recording looked exactly like when they Facetime.

“She’s done it a ton and been a trooper about it,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a kid who could handle it any better. I’ve had six trips that were over a year. The last three years I’ve been gone over 200 days a year, and I’ve got her who never complains about it when I tell her I’m not going to be there for her birthday or Christmas, she just says we’ll do it when I’m there. Then she excels in school and knows what she wants to do after high school already. The difference for me is that I chose this, but she didn’t and she still excels in all the things that you could ask for.”

The Komets were thrilled for the opportunity.

“We’ve always wanted to do one of those, but they are hard to pull off,” said Director of Sales and Marketing Josh Testin. “What a perfect night for it, though, Thanksgiving. You can’t have it any better than that. I’m sitting here trying to film it on my phone and my hand was shaking, and I knew it was coming.”

Community Relations/Client Services Director Aubrey Bryan helped sneak Hunt into the building an hour before gametime and hid him in a locker room where he had to wait until the appropriate time. That was after a 13-hour drive from Fort Meade, Md., where he is stationed stateside. The wait was tough, but Bailey’s reaction was worth it for everyone in the building.

“I cried, I’m not going to lie,” Bryan said. “How could you not? I don’t think there was a dry eye in the whole building. I think it worked out perfectly.”

So do the Hunts. The only bad thing about the night is that Brian has to leave Sunday to return to Fort Meade to prepare for a trip to Korea next month, but this memory and standing for the national anthem together will last forever.

“The national anthem is always something that gives me goose bumps anyway,” Brian said. “We didn’t say anything the whole time we were on the ice. I think it was just one of those things where you don’t need to say anything.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at bsebring@news-sentinel.com.

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