Airman returns home and surprises kids at school

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 December 2014 at 12:00 am

Sr. Master Sgt. Cliff Thom was deployed to Afghanistan

Photos by Tom Rivers  – Cliff Thom walks down the hallway in the Albion Middle School this morning with his son Jacob and wife Tara. All of the classrooms emptied into the hallway and students and teachers applauded for Thom and his family.

ALBION – The High School Band played “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” And then Cliff Thom entered into the band room, wearing his military uniform. He walked up to his daughter Catherine and put his arm around her.

Catherine, a sophomore, had her back to the door and was focused on playing her clarinet. But then she realized the person who cozied up to her was her father.

Catherine jumped up and gave him a hug. Her father is back home today after more than 5 months of active duty in Afghanistan.

Today he saw his three kids for the first time since June 29.

Catherine Thom and her father Cliff Thom embrace after seeing each other today for the first time since late June.

Thom, 42, has served in the military for 24 years. He also is a full-time electrician, working in Rochester. He and his wife, Tara, live in Gaines with their three children: Catherine, 15; Jacob, 11; and Sarah, 8.

He is a senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. He is in the Reserve, which typically requires one weekend a month and two weeks a year of training. There is always the chance of deployment.

Thom talks to middle school students in Jonathan Sanford’s class about Afghanistan. Thom’s son Jacob is in the class.

Thom does his training out of the Air Reserve Station in Niagara Falls. He is a command chief from that site. In Afghanistan, he served as an operations superintendent.

At a base in Afghanistan, Thom and his unit loaded cargo from aircraft.

“My job is loading the planes,” Thom told a class of Middle Schoolers today. “It’s an important job because it supports everyone else.”

Thom surprised his son Jacob, a sixth grader in Jonathan Sanford’s class, this morning.

Thom told students it’s very hot in Afghanistan with temperatures well over 100 degrees. In his five-plus months there, it seldom rained and there were very few clouds the entire time.

It cooled down to about 90 degrees during the summer nights. In early December, the temperatures were in the 70s during the day and dropped to the 30s at night.

“It’s windy, dusty and dirty,” he told the students. “It’s very sandy. It’s all tan or brown.”

Jonathan Sanford, a social studies teacher, takes a picture of Cliff Thom with his son Jacob and Jacob’s classmates.

Sanford, a social studies teacher, thanked Thom for his service and willingness to go so far away.

“I know I speak for all of the kids when I say thank you for your service,” Sanford said.

Sanford told the students that the United States enjoys its safety and peace due to soldiers. He noted they all volunteer to enlist.

“They serve their country,” Sanford said. “It’s a very noble thing to do.”

Thom walked through a corridor of students and staff in the middle school, all thanking him for his service.

After surpirsing Jacob at the middle school, Thom and his wife headed to the high school to surprise Catherine who was in band.

Mike Thaine, the band teacher, thanked the Thom family for sharing the surprise with students.

“This is one band practice you will never forget,” Thaine told the students.

Cliff Thom, right, greets the high school band where his daughter plays the clarinet.

Thom admitted he was nervous this morning before seeing his children. He doesn’t like a lot of attention, he said.

He didn’t want to wait until the end of the school day to see them. He said the deployment and separation was a little easier because he could text with his family and talk with them through Google Hangouts, which is similar to Skype.

Many of his local friends also saw him do the Ice Bucket Challenge while in Afghanistan. His wife posted a link to the video of that on her Facebook page.

Thom greets his youngest daughter Sarah during lunch in the elementary school cafeteria. Sarah grabbed his hat.

After connecting with his children, Thom said the family was headed for lunch at the Village House restaurant. He wanted a bacon cheeseburger deluxe.