ARLINGTON — Miller Elementary School student Ashlyn Altobello doesn’t like it when her dad leaves her, but she knows it’s something he has to do for the country.She last saw him in March before Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Altobello deployed to Afghanistan for six months.Suddenly, on Friday, Ashlyn’s dad was coming through the door of her math classroom with a bouquet of flowers.The 9-year-old leapt from her chair and shouted “Daddy!” before jumping into his arms. After hugging and kissing her father, Ashlyn stood in the middle of the room shocked.“It’s very surprising,” she said. “I’m very happy.” Altobello had returned to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia last week to check in, and then schemed to get to Arlington to visit his daughter.“I know it’s very important to the USA, and my dad just has to go when he has to go,” Ashlyn said.Altobello said he expected to go through a “whirlwind of thoughts and emotions” upon seeing his daughter, something the rest of class experienced, too — several children started to cry. Altobello said he had struggled to keep his visit a secret when his daughter interrupted previous chats with questions about when she could see him.“I had to bite my tongue,” he said. “I just changed the subject as much as I could.”Still holding his daughter’s hand, he accepted a Texas flag from state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington. The flag had flown over the state Capitol on the Fourth of July.Patrick thanked Altobello for his service and his daughter for her strength.“This is the best part of the job,” Patrick said.Afghanistan was Altobello’s second deployment. His first was to Iraq in 2007 for six months to fly F-16 fighters.Thanks to advances in technology, father and daughter can now communicate with Apple’s FaceTime cellphone camera, which is a lot better than the few phone calls they got in the beginning of his service, he said. Ashlyn’s parents are divorced, and she lives with her mom, Holli Altobello, in Arlington. Holli Altobello said that Richard Altobello’s absence has been hard for Ashlyn and that she often goes through an emotional roller coaster of denial to acceptance.But her daughter was full of grins Friday, and it was Mom who was at the side of the room in tears.After Patrick’s presentation, father and daughter walked out of the building hand in hand, looking forward to a trip to Six Flags Over Texas today.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST