Student surprised by twin brother’s homecoming

Kristine Kennedy, Staff Reporter

We have all experienced the touching story of a father who is active in the military and able to have a triumphant homecoming surprise for his wife and children. It is an emotional experience for everyone involved including the audience.

But, the marital bond isn’t the only that is affected by military service. Recently, a Park University student was able to experience a homecoming of someone she has known since her own conception.

Leah Strong is a junior at Park University studying to be a Marine Biologist. Her twin brother, Benjamin Strong, is in the United States Marine Corp and currently stationed at Camp Kinser in Okinawa, Japan. Benjamin returned Feb. 2 surprising his sister.

Growing up as twins can be fun yet sometimes challenging especially if the twins are of different gender like Leah and Benjamin. When they were little, there was the typical sibling rivalry.

“He used to pick on me all the time,” said Leah.

It wasn’t until high school that they started to become close.

“His immaturity when we were younger has made our bond stronger now,” she said.

After graduating high school, they each took separate paths. Leah started her college career at Maple Woods Community College and Benjamin worked different jobs until he decided to give the military a try.

Their parents were in the U.S. Air Force and that is where they met and fell in love.

“I tried the Air Force but they didn’t suit me,” Benjamin said.

A month later, he went to the Marine Corp office and a short six months later he was off to San Diego, Calif., for boot camp.

The only way his family was able to communicate to him was through letters in the mail. Leah said she remembers the excitement she felt when she would receive the letters. Benjamin said he remembers the anticipation of getting another one in the mail. They wrote back and forth for several weeks until he graduated.

After graduation he started his basic training, Military Operational Schooling, in North Carolina. This is where the idea to surprise Leah with his homecoming began to form.

It was December 2013, and the area was too cold for military personnel to use their equipment, so they went on break.

Benjamin had asked, a couple of weeks in advance, for a leave to go home. His request was granted which made the first homecoming surprise he would throw for Leah.

The day he flew in, Leah and her older brother, Daniel, were at home watching a movie in the basement.

“I had no idea why we had to stay in the basement,” said Leah, “it was so cold down there.”

Her parents sent a photograph with the three of them at the airport moments earlier. After receiving the text Leah did not hesitate before she darted up the stairs.

“I couldn’t believe it was him, I was so excited,” she said. “I accidentally left a tear stain on his uniform.”

His visits were never very long, only a few weeks at a time, but his time home was always special. Being a “newbie” and at the “bottom of the totem pole”, as Benjamin said, he knew he would be the last one able to request for a leave. His next return wouldn’t be until June of 2015.

Leah continued to work on her college education and maintain a job.

She said she has a lot of friends and is always surrounded by a family that loves her. But, she doesn’t have that one person that she considers her best friend – Benjamin, her twin brother.

After he completed his schooling, his next mission was Okinawa, Japan. While stationed there, he is assigned two MOS jobs: water purification specialist and range coach. Both jobs are very important and are not easily obtainable.

“As a water purification specialist my job is to make sure that the water out in the field is suitable to showering in, drink, and cook with,” said Benjamin. “My job as a range coach is to assist in showing troops how to shoot properly.”

With the thoughts of June 2015 being so far away, Benjamin put in a request to leave Japan on February 1, 2015.

Instead of his jobs going undone, he was able to find a replacement for himself. Six months before his arrival his parents found out but he told them not to tell Leah.

“Our mom almost blew my cover so many times,” said Benjamin.
Leah laughed.

“I guess you can blame it on me being blonde because I never caught on,” she said.

The plan was for Benjamin to arrive in Missouri and stay with a friend of the family on the night of Feb. 1. The next morning he would dress in his uniform and surprise Leah at Park University. On the Feb. 1, his flight from Washington to Kansas City was cancelled.

The plan was a little off course so they had to regroup.

When Benjamin finally arrived home on Feb. 2, Leah was out of school for the day and already at work.

Instead of waiting for her to get off at 8:30 p.m., he decided to go ahead and surprise her there.

“We know what we have is great,” said Leah, “but we don’t like to flaunt it.”

Benjamin or Leah just celebrated their birthday at the beginning of February and haven’t spent a single birthday apart.

Benjamin left for Japan on Feb. 15 and is not sure when he will be able to return home. He suspects it will be at least one year.

Although he said he will miss everyone, the memories he made while being home are memories he and Leah will survive on for another year.