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East County Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 3 weeks ago

A tearful homecoming at Nolan Middle School in Lakewood Ranch

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U.S. Army captain returns from duty in Iraq to surprise his children in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Marisa Easto, a seventh-grader at R. Dan Nolan Middle School, sat quietly writing in her notebook during lunch while Principal Scot Boice made an announcement. 

It took her a few seconds to realize the announcement was about her and her father, U.S. Army Capt. Josh Easto, who came to the school Oct. 25 to surprise Marisa after 10 months on active duty in Iraq.

She couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw her father walking toward her.

“Oh my God,” she said as she stood up and started crying. “That’s my dad.”

Seventh grader Marisa Easto, center, is in disbelief when she sees her father, Capt. Josh Easto, walk through the cafeteria. "Oh my God," she said. "That's my dad." Photo by Liz Ramos.

The reunited father and daughter hugged in front of a crowded cafeteria of students, teachers and staff members. As an added bonus, Marisa Easto’s aunt, Kimberly Matthews, and grandmother, Linda Matthews, had flown in from Texas for the surprise as well.

“It was amazing,” Josh Easto said. “It was great just them not knowing that I was going to be here so soon and just seeing the emotion and surprise on her face.”

Josh Easto later surprised his sons, J.J. and Jackson, who are students at Out-of-Door Academy during the school’s home playoff quarter final game Oct. 25. He went onto the field for the coin toss to reunite with J.J., a senior, and Jackson, a sophomore.

“It was great to be able to be here and witness and be a part of this,” Linda Matthews said. “Of course, we’re all just thrilled to death he’s back home and safe. … Seeing my son hugging my granddaughter with my daughter-in-law and my daughter is priceless.”

The family moved back from Fort Riley, Kansas, where Josh Easto was stationed, to Lakewood Ranch to have support from family and friends while he was on duty. 

“It’s hard to know that you can’t do anything to help when they have their daily problems and stress and having to move by themselves,” Josh Easto said. “It’s difficult to deal with that when you’re in a combat zone so I just try to communicate as much as I can. Whatever limited communication means we had was rough.”

Melanie Easto said her daughter and husband have a close relationship making it harder on both of them to be apart. They would spend days watching kung fu movies or “The Three Stooges.” 

Out-of-Door Academy senior JJ Easto hugs his father, Capt. Josh Easto, after a surprise homecoming during a football game. Photo by Ryan Kohn.

“Her big brothers had to step up and kind of take that role of being that protector and that confidant that she has because they’re very close,” Melanie Easto said. “She became a young lady in the 10 months he was gone.”

While Josh Easto was away, Melanie Easto would tell him any small accomplishments their kids made day-by-day, which would make him homesick.

“It was almost like I wanted to tell him these things but at the same time, it would make him feel sad because he wasn’t present for that,” Melanie Easto said. “He’s proud of the kids for accomplishing something but then there was that sadness that he’s missing out.”

Back together again, Josh and Melanie Easto said they were spending the weekend relaxing at the beach for some quality family time.

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