By Mac Cerullo
AMESBURY, Mass. — Having been away on Coast Guard duty for the past eight months, Sergeant Craig Bailey of the Amesbury Police had a happy homecoming yesterday morning, when he surprised his two young sons during an assembly on winter safety at the Cashman Elementary School.
Bailey came out at the end of the assembly dressed from head to toe in heavy winter gear so that nobody could tell who he was, and after Officer Tom Hanshaw finished explaining to the kids why it's important to bundle up when it's cold out, he called up Jackson and Garrett Bailey to help the mysterious police officer get out of his gear.
Once the two children pulled off Bailey's facemask and realized their Dad was home, their faces lit up and they both jumped into their father's arms.
Prior to yesterday's surprise, Jackson and Garrett, who are 8 and 6 years old respectively, hadn't seen their father since last April. Bailey had been away with the Coast Guard on an extended stay in Cuba, and during the time he was gone he never got a chance to come home and visit.
"It's hard to explain how difficult it is, and I give my wife and my kids all the credit in the world," Bailey said, adding that this was the first time he'd been away from his family for an extended period of time. "Half the heroes are down there, but the other half are back here, and the family support units are incredible. I couldn't have done this without my wife, she's been amazing."
When the trip came to an end, Bailey reached out to Hanshaw to see if he could help arrange some kind of way to surprise his kids. The two came up with the winter assembly and then brought the idea to the Amesbury school administrators who loved it and helped put it all together.
"We've worked together for the past 16 years so we're pretty good friends," Baileysaid, referring to Hanshaw. "To have something like this happen, it just fell on the right day, all the stars aligned basically."
To make sure the kids didn't suspect anything, Cashman School principal Louise Charette had the entire student body sing "This Is My America" at the beginning of the assembly, which was filmed by ACT's Russ Monroe and will be sent to veterans fighting overseas as part of an upcoming Valentine's Day initiative.
Then Hanshaw took the microphone and gave a brief presentation on winter safety. Among other things, Hanshaw told the kids to stay away from plows, to be careful of thin ice when skating on a lake or a pond, and to avoid sledding near busy streets, where cars might have trouble stopping.
Hanshaw's last tip was that you should always dress warm when you go outside, and to demonstrate, Hanshaw called up "Officer Ralphie" — who was really Bailey wearing heavy snow gear — demonstrate how to stay warm.
"Officer Ralphie" was a reference to the scene in "A Christmas Story" when Ralphie's brother Randy gets bundled up in so much heavy winter clothing that he can't put his arms down, and then gets knocked down and can't get back up. Similarly, Bailey was wearing a facemask, a heavy winter police suit, a hat, scarves, mittens and boots, making it impossible for anyone to tell who he really was.
After Hanshaw pointed out each of his articles of winter clothing, he remarked that "Ralphie" must be hot, so he called up Jackson and Garrett to help him get out of his gear.
"It was kind of up in the air what their reaction was going to be, it was either they were going to scream and yell, or they were going to be like 'hey, wait a minute, you're my Dad,'" Bailey said. "It all worked out pretty well, and I'm excited to be back."
"We were really surprised," Jackson added. "That was awesome."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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