CINCINNATI - Two Cincinnati children thought they'd gotten the chance to drop the puck at a minor league hockey game, but they were in for an even bigger surprise -- their dad, back home from serving overseas.
Army Sgt. Phillip Gallardo had been planning the surprise at Saturday night's Cincinnati Cyclones' game for weeks before he arrived home from Afghanistan early that morning.
He made arrangements with the Cyclones so his 12-year-old daughter Karisma and 11-year-old son Phillip would think they were randomly selected to drop a ceremonial puck prior to the start of the hockey game.
But instead of getting a puck from the Cyclcones’ mascot, Twister, they were surprised by their dad.
“At first, I didn’t know, and I was like, ‘Is that him?’" recalled Karisma, who had been asking her father when he’d be coming home during the days leading up to Saturday.
"I didn't know if they knew,” Gallardo said when asked by 9 On Your Side reporter Amy Wadas if his children had any idea about his secret return home. “Of course, my daughter is nosy. She was like, ‘When are you coming?’ I was like, ‘Well, I'll probably be there at the end of the month, maybe earlier.'”
While the children miss their father during his deployments, they said they know what he's doing is important. They understand the sacrifice he is making, both for them and their country, and said they couldn’t be prouder of him.
"I'm really psyched that he's serving our country and serving the military," Phillip said about his dad.
However, the pride they feel in their hearts doesn’t replace the feeling of loss they experience while he’s away.
Gallardo has been deployed four times, the longest of which was 15 months. This current tour is the longest continuous stretch he’s been away from his children. He hasn’t seen them in more than a year, Gallardo told Wadas.
Not surprisingly, the platoon sergeant said being away from his children is difficult, especially when he talks to his friends and family who get to see their children nearly every day.
"It's hard because a lot of my friends talk about [their children], but I don't really get to see mine," he said.
Gallardo said he plans to spend quality time with his family while he’s in Cincinnati. He will head to his station at Fort Riley in Kansas on March 19.