Cedar Rapids Soldier Surprises Family for the Holidays

By Mark Geary, Reporter

Sgt. Raymond Ropa (left, facing camera) hugs his seven-year-old son Andy as his wife Kris (right, facing camera) hugs their other son Will, 10, after he surprised his family by coming home early on leave from Afghanistan on Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ropa is with the HHC Company, 168th Infantry and attached to the 101st Airborne. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

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By Tracy McCullough

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – As Sergeant Raymond Ropa took his first steps back in Cedar Rapids, his wife, Kris, was at home preparing their children to celebrate Christmas without their dad. Ropa is serving with the HHC 1-168 Infantry in Afghanistan.

“To be honest, I could care less if the holiday came. But, I have to celebrate for our two kids. So, you put up a tree and do your best,” Kris Ropa said. “I really miss him. I thank God he’s safe. I can’t wait for him to come back home.”

Little did she know, family friend Colleen Rohling had just picked up her husband at the airport. Sgt. Ropa contacted Rohling to help him surprise his wife and kids.

“It’s great to be back,” he said. “Other than emails and phone calls, there hasn’t been a lot of communication…I know there’s a little seven-year-old who’s been wanting to see his dad pretty bad.”

The lack of communication made it easier to pull off the surprise.

“I miss dad and I really want him to come back,” Andy Ropa, 7, said before he knew his dad was back on U.S. soil.

The trip from Afghanistan to Iowa took four days and plenty of patience.

“I’ve had no sleep. You’re just on the go constantly, waiting in line here, waiting in line there.”

Sgt. Ropa has a special connection to Santa Claus and convinced the man in the red suit to come along with him to break the news to his family.

A few ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’s’ later, the children realized Kris Kringle had brought them the gift at the top of their Christmas list: their dad.

“I think somebody missed me,” Sgt. Ropa said as he wrapped his arms around his wife and children.”I can’t get enough hugs.” Once the initial shock wore off, tears started flowing and smiles filled everyone’s face.

Sgt. Ropa will spend the next fifteen days cherishing every moment with his family before he returns to Afghanistan. They won’t see each other again until his mission ends this summer.

While Ropa’s children are too young to understand the danger their father faces in Afghanistan, they know he’s home with them. And, that’s all that really matters.
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