For a second as the curtain parted, the person on stage looked to Faith Kahlenbeck like an Army recruiter in a camouflage uniform.
But in a blink, Kahlenbeck’s eyes grew wide and she ran with a leap into the arms of her older brother, Brandon Needler, who is home on leave after spending days planning Friday’s surprise at New Haven High School.
Students arriving for lunch in the school’s cafeteria stood and applauded the reunion.
“He’s been my best friend since we were real little,” Kahlenbeck, 16, said, as mom, Anna Burnside, dad, Greg Needler, and sister Brianna Needler gathered around afterward. “I was just so surprised. It really shocked me.”
Brandon Needler, 19, looked just as surprised as his sister charged through the school cafeteria, fighting back tears and wrapping legs and arms around him in heartwarming affection.
“She about knocked me down,” he said. “I didn’t expect that.”
Needler, stationed in South Korea, has not been home since June. With training exercises between the U.S. and South Korea called off by President Donald Trump, Needler found himself with about two weeks’ leave. He called school administrators two weeks ago to stage the reunion with Brianna Needler’s help.
Principal Anna Murphy said Friday she wasn’t sure how to call upon Kahlenbeck without giving the surprise away. As the lunch period began, Murphy had Kahlenbeck approach her so she could write Kahlenbeck a check for a fundraiser.
With Kahlenbeck near and microphone in hand, Murphy looked toward the curtains and said, “Would someone behind the stage come on up please?” Out walked U.S. Army Pfc. Brandon Needler, a 2017 graduate of the school. He had flown in Thursday night.
Needler was expected to surprise another sister at her wedding rehearsal dinner Friday. Kahlenbeck said she had planned to spend Friday helping Katrina Needler with the wedding arrangements and not go to school. But other family members conspired against her.
“I was supposed to help my sister set up today and I was like, ‘I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,’” she said. “But they all told me you have to do at least a half day. I didn’t know this was going on at all.”