'Operation Cheesecake Surprise': Airman surprises family after returning from Afghanistan

(WNYT) A restaurant dining room in Colonie, N.Y., was the setting on Saturday night for a secretive military family reunion.

The public homecoming for Air Force Senior Spc. Michael Byerwalters Jr. came at Albany International Airport Saturday.

His mother and grandmother, however, had been kept in the dark.

"My mom is going to kill me and my grandmother is going to kill me," said Jessica Byerwalters, Mike's sister. "They both yelled at me that they need to be at the airport when this is going on."

Instead of an airport reunion, Jessica and Michael had something else in mind, something fun, but something that had to be kept under wraps -- top secret.

"There's probably going to be a lot of tears, maybe some yelling," Michael said.

What the two siblings from Coeymans Hollow cooked up was a surprise reunion at the Cheesecake Factory in Colonie Center.

Michael and his sister, and several cousins arrived first. Then, at 17-hundred hours, their mother Celeste and grandmother, Gloria Carpenter, sat down for dinner, thinking Michael was still in Afghanistan, where he's been for the last seven months.

Dressed in full military camouflage, Michael marched up to the table and asked if there was room for one more.

His mother, in disbelief, wrapped her arms around him and wouldn't let go.

"I'm amazed," Celeste exclaimed, "I honestly didn't expect him until April 1. I just love him so much. I really have been waiting for him to come home."

Then it was Carpenter's turn to hug her grandson, and even though she was delighted by Michael's homecoming, she wondered why she had to be kept in the dark.

"I didn't know to begin with," she said. "They all ganged up on me but honestly, it's such a wonderful surprise.

The tactical and strategic planning paid off. Operation Cheesecake Surprise was a success with mission accomplished.

"It was perfect!" Michael said, "It was a good feeling. I felt relieved, finally after seven months."

Even though successful, the family reunion was far from complete. Air Force First Sergeant Michael Byerwalters, Senior, Mike's father is still in New Zealand.

His sister, Ashley, is in the Air Force, and his sister, Alisha, is in the Army.

Inspired by the family's sacrifice, the Cheesecake Factory manager picked up the dinner check.

Courtesy: NBC News Channel


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