In recent years, the popularity of surprise soldier homecomings, videotaped for posterity, has grown: dozens of such moments have been posted on the Internet. Fathers in fatigues — it’s almost always fathers — surprise children in classrooms, at a Valentine’s Day dance, popping out of a gift-wrapped box at a school assembly. Occasionally, as in a Veterans Day ceremony at a Tennessee elementary school, the local TV news lies in wait.
Network anchors sniffle. Public relations people beam. Parents describe unparalleled elation. But as these surprise reunions become embedded as this generation’s narrative of the returning vet, psychologists and others who work with military families question whether these surprise visits best serve the children themselves. Debates on blogs, like Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, ask, Do these videos celebrate or exploit?
“Some people think it’s totally fine,” said Lillian Connolly, a mother of four who leads support groups for military families in Brockton, Mass. “But I recommend to families not to surprise children. The child has been without a parent for so long. The child can hold anger. You never know how they’re going to react.”
Mrs. Connolly, whose husband is on his third deployment in Iraq for the Army Reserve, added: “And in front of the media? I don’t think it’s fair.”