Soldier who has been in Afghanistan for a year surprises his kids at their school


PHOENIX — A Valley father hasn’t seen his family for more than a year. That’s because he’s been in northern Afghanistan fighting for our country. But now, he is home with hopes of giving three of his children a big surprise.

U.S. Army major and combat vet Tyler Willbanks’ new marching orders just came in. This time, his mission is top secret, but it’s not for the United States. It’s for being reunited with his children.

The major is a dad first, one who knows his two daughters, Marissa and Malia, oh so well, even after a 16-month deployment to Afghanistan. He and his wife, Lani, surprised the girls in choir class at Desert Vista High School.

“It feels whole again, the house,” Marissa said. “When we walk back in the house, it’s going to feel like home again.”

“There’s one extra person to do laundry,” Malia said laughing.

Willbanks’ mission also took him from Desert Vista High School to Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School, where his son, Justin, thought his mom was dropping off lunch at the front office.

“It was a surprise,” Justin said.

“I’ve got two more daughters I need to go see,” Willbanks said. “I’ll catch up with them in New Mexico, so we’ll strategize about how to put that together and just get to know each other again.”

Willbanks plans on staying in the military and will be based right here in Arizona.