Friday, February 15, 2008

From Iraq, with love

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
— It wasn’t until U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Robinson popped out from behind an 8-foot high cardboard heart that his children Savada, 9, Audrey, 7, and Harrison, 3, realized they’d been set up for one of the best Valentine’s Day surprises ever.
The media at their school Wednesday didn’t tip them off. When teachers grouped the three siblings together in the front row, still, nothing seemed amiss. When Savada was tapped to play “Shenandoah” on her guitar for students at Vincent Mauro Elementary Magnet School, she still didn’t suspect anything.
But when their father jumped out from behind the 8-foot red heart during a school assembly, all the secret planning was worth it. jig was definitely up
Savada and Audrey screamed and leapt into their father’s arms. Harrison looked bewildered for a moment before Robinson flung him into the air.
“This is my best valentine ever,” Robinson said.
Robinson returned Tuesday from nine months in Iraq, a day earlier than expected. He camped out at a Farmington hotel with his wife, Yvonne, Tuesday night, not telling his children he was home. The children weren’t expecting their dad home until the weekend, and thought mom was held up at the hotel working late.
But when snow, sleet and heavy rain poured down late Tuesday into Wednesday, Robinson prayed the schools wouldn’t close. He couldn’t wait another day. “I thought I was going to have to call it off,” Robinson said.
But with only a 90-minute school delay, plans moved forward.
Robinson arrived at the school at 1 p.m., where he was saluted by a student “safety patrol” waving American flags.
He was ushered quietly into a back atrium, and quickly seated behind the heart, which was decorated with a red bow and white snowflake trim.
With Robinson safely obscured, students filtered in to hear what they believed was a guitar performance by Savada and a Valentine’s Day story.
But after hearing Savada’s “Shenandoah,” and a reading of Mary Engelbreit’s “Queen of Hearts,” teachers knocked on the mysterious cardboard heart.
When a voice behind asked Savada, a fourth-grader, Audrey, a second-grader, and Harrison, “Will you be my Valentine?” the children still were not sure who was seated behind the heart, until it slowly opened and their father, in uniform, popped out.
Surprised students and staff, who had been bubbling with anticipation, burst into applause.
Parent Resource Center coordinator Jene Flores said she had worked hard with Mauro parents to whip up the surprise after Yvonne Robinson mentioned her husband was returning.
“We really worked hard for (the students) not to know,” Flores said.
Robinson took questions from students about the nine months he has spent in Iraq, as preschooler Harrison perched on his father’s knee, snuggling against his shoulder.
In the midst of questions about war zone safety and life in Iraq, Harrison piped up with his own: “Are you coming home with us?” he asked.
Robinson is on leave for two weeks, but will return to Iraq to serve another three months. He works in the Green Zone, handling supplies purchases, an assignment removed from much of the danger of the war, he said.
The Robinson family lives in Oxford, and the children attend Vincent Mauro through the interdistrict magnet school program.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or

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