CINCINNATI - The biggest highlight at U.S. Bank Arena Saturday evening didn't take place during the Cincinnati Cyclones' 5-2 victory over the Evansville Iceman.
Army Sergeant 1st Class Phillip Gallardo’s secret homecoming surprise for his friends and family is what people will likely talk about Sunday.
Gallardo had been planning the surprise for weeks before he arrived home from Afghanistan early Saturday morning.
He made an arrangement 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. However, instead of receiving a puck from the Cyclones’ mascot, Twister, they received 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,” said Gallardo 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 know what he's doing is important. They understand the sacrifice he is making, both for them and their country, and 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.
Being away from his children has caused him to put things in perspective and he doesn't want to waste the time he has with his children. 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 March 19.
9 On Your Side reporter Amy Wadas contributed to this report.
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