Today’s Doodle 4 Google image by Wisconsin teenager Sabrina Brady illustrates the powerful emotion of a military parent-child reunion. Looking at it, I suddenly realized the images I usually associate with soldiers coming home from a tour of duty are images of adults in the throes of emotion — Norman Rockwell’s famous Saturday Evening Post cover of a GI returning home, the sailor dipping a nurse and stealing a kiss on VJ Day.
Sabrina's image shows it’s actually more powerful to see images of children in a moment of commingled relief and joy. It reminds us that supporting our troops also means supporting their kids.
The theme for this year’s Doodle 4 Google competition, which invites K-12 students to submit an illustration incorporating the search giant's logo, was “My Best Day Ever...” Sabrina won with her piece, “Coming Home,” an illustration of her running toward her father upon his return from an 18-month deployment in Iraq.
The image shows the stages of military childhood: from steadfast support, through expectation, and into embrace.
While my family members are not in the military, nearly all our friends and neighbors here in Norfolk, Va., are Navy families. Deployments are hard on anyone who has a loved one in harm’s way. However, I believe the greatest price paid for our freedom comes from the emotional piggy banks of the children of military families.
Nearby to Naval Station Norfolk — a Navy base supporting US naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans — this is sure to be the most popular Google Doodle of the year.
The image resonates even more strongly as President Barack Obama draws overseas troop levels down and military personnel return from deployments.
One such moving reunion moment came a week ago when Alayna Adams, 9, threw out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game in honor of her father, a lieutenant colonel in the Army stationed in Afghanistan. However, when Alayna threw the pitch, the catcher took off his mask and revealed himself to be her father.
I watched that moment on television at the gym while I ran on the treadmill and had to stop to cry my eyes out along with four others in the room. Women and grown men who were there pumping iron alongside me paused, too. The emotion of the images on the big flatscreen flattened us all.
Seeing today’s Google Doodle brought it right back, and here I sit, at my computer, with tears running down my face in unison with the downpour outside my window.
In another TV reunion moment, Army Spc. Larry Shaffer arrived home last week from his stint in Afghanistan to his wife Misty who had lost over 100 lbs in his absence.
But for me, the more gut-wrenching moment came when Mr. Shaffer tried to hold his daughter Nevaeh (Heaven spelled backward) at the Wilmington, N.C., airport, but had to hold back as the little one shrieked and cried in panic at the sight of this “stranger” trying to hug her. She clung to her grandmother, hysterical, as her father helplessly looked on, powerless to reconnect for the moment.
Parents in the military make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our nation’s security and freedom. There are men and women, fathers and mothers, in every branch of service who would rather face death a thousand-fold rather than their own child who has been separated from them for so long they recoil from their parent’s “strange” embrace. Maybe it was just the excitement that had Nevaeh unglued, but here in Norfolk it’s not uncommon to see children becoming tense and either overly emotional or shut-down as they wait in anticipation for a military mom or dad to come home after being away for many months.
For her ability to capture that in a “doodle” and bring it all home for use, I believe Sabrina deserves all the accolades and prizes heaped on her today. Besides the home-page display, Google announced in a press release that Sabrina has won “a $30,000 college scholarship, a Chromebook computer and a $50,000 technology grant for her school.” She beat out a field of 130,000 submissions that collectively drew millions of online votes. Google reports that she’ll attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design this fall.
I want to thank Sabrina for letting us into her moment. We should all take a moment to do something kind for the child of a military family to show them that we support all our troops, great and small.