By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 13, 2014 1:50 AM
Amaya Gonzalez, 4, is surprised by her father, Staff Sgt. Luis Gonzalez, during the Teddy Bear Picnic in Cornerstone Commons Thursday. The airman, unbeknownst to his daughter, had just returned from a six-month deployment to the Middle East.
He had only been away from home for six months, but as Luis Gonzalez approached downtown Goldsboro, his nerves got the best of him -- and questions he never would have posed before his deployment began running through his head.
Would his 4-year-daughter, Amaya, remember him?
Would she know that the man in the Air Force uniform was her father?
Had the love they shared before he boarded a plane bound for the Middle East dissipated?
But when, after a brief pause, Amaya sprung to her feet and sprinted toward him -- when she jumped into his arms and told him how much she had missed him -- the 4th Fighter Wing staff sergeant's fears subsided.
"I told her, 'I missed you, too,'" Gonzalez said. "I said, 'I love you, baby.'"
Thursday afternoon was supposed to belong to stuffed animals, friends and food.
But when a Seymour Johnson Air Force Base airman surprised his little girl at the beginning of the Partnership for Children's annual Teddy Bear Picnic, tears started falling.
"It was a little overwhelming. I was so looking forward to her reaction," Gonzalez said. "It was perfect."
The Air Force has not released much about the nature of the deployment that saw Gonzalez and hundreds of his comrades leave their families for a six-month tour.
But regardless of the mission, the sacrifices made in the homes of the men and women removed from them were akin to those typically shouldered in military communities across the country.
Gonzalez's wife, Renisha, tried to keep life as normal as possible for the couple's daughter, but admitted that being a "single-mom" was "taxing."
"It's tough," she said.
So when she learned that she had the opportunity to interrupt her little girl's field trip with a once-in-a-lifetime surprise, she jumped at the chance.
"I wanted to make it really special for her, and it was definitely a huge moment," she said. "I got a little teary. I was just so happy he was home."
Amaya was happy, too.
Her father could see it in her eyes -- and feel it in her embrace.
"I thought there was a good chance she might treat me different, but she didn't," Gonzalez said. "Like I said, it was perfect."