Many children are still putting the finishing touches on their Christmas lists, but the holiday came early for one Scotland County girl on Tuesday.
Laurel Hill Elementary School student Noelle Ryan got a surprise visit from her mother, Sgt. Ashlie Ryan of the Indiana Army National Guard, during rehearsal for the second-grade Christmas play.
Ryan returned from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan last week, driving to North Carolina Monday from Camp Atterbury in Indiana. She serves as assistant to the infantry’s commander with the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Ryan entered the school auditorium while Noelle and her classmates were on stage with the curtain drawn. When the curtain was lifted and the seven-year-old first caught a glimpse of her mother, Noelle flew into Ryan’s arms with a cry of “Mommy.”
“Being a mother and being deployed, it’s the hardest part of being gone, wondering about my kids,” Ryan said. “I didn’t recognize her at first.”
Ryan will be able to spend Christmas and the New Year with Noelle and her two-year-old son.
“I’m very thankful to be able to be home for the holidays,” she said. “It’s such a blessing to be able to be home and share this moment with my kids. I wanted to surprise them so bad; I wanted it to be special so she’d remember for the rest of her life, and I think we accomplished that.”
Ryan joined the Army four years ago, when Noelle was three and old enough to realize that her mother’s stint at basic training and eventual deployment would not be permanent situations. When Ryan left for basic training, Noelle gave her a small toy monkey that she carries with her every day.
“I actually waited until she was old enough to know that her mommy would be back,” Ryan said. “I’ve always loved the military, loved what it stood for and its values, but I wanted her to know that mommy was going to be gone just for a short period of time. I do my job because I want my kids to have a better life. I love my country and I love my kids.”
In her month of leave before returning to Indiana, Ryan plans to spend as much time as possible with her children, including a trip to Florida to meet Noelle’s favorite Disney princess - Rapunzel.
“We’re going to Disney World and then just spending many hours just catching up,” she said. “I miss so much with her and so much with my son.”
When her friends ask her what her mother does, Noelle’s response is usually “by Pakistan,” but Ryan said that her daughter knows she is working to keep her safe and that sometimes that entails fighting bad guys.
“We call it soldier world,” she said. “She always knows that mommy is different places and we call it soldier world, and she knows I’m going to come back.”