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Apodaca: Christmas dreams come true for CdM family

December 24, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

For most of her 13 years, Kacey Mathieson has missed her father's presence for months at a time.

There were some birthdays he couldn't make, holidays when he was far away. And until Friday evening, she didn't know if the man she calls "my bestest buddy" would be home this Christmas.

But when Kacey went to dinner with her mother and grandmother at Duke's in Huntington Beach, the "waiter" who approached the table was none other than her dad, an Air Force reservist who was granted a five-day leave and made it home in time to surprise his daughter.

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Kacey's father is Gary Mathieson, a popular middle-school physical education teacher at Corona del Mar High School. I've written previously about Gary, who signed up for the Air Force Reserves in the wake of 9/11 because, as he says, "I love my country," ("Apodaca: Afghanistan, Newport share unique bridge," Oct. 23).

Since beginning his current deployment in November, Gary has been stationed at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where he is receiving additional training on the C-17 Globemaster III, a massive long-haul aircraft used for moving equipment as big as tanks and helicopters, as well as supplies and troops.

Gary works as a loadmaster, a position that requires him to calculate the weight and distribution of everything carried on the aircraft. His current training regimen involves refining and upgrading his knowledge of computer systems and methods of computation, as well as loading techniques and safety protocols.

"The list goes on and on and on," Gary wrote to me in a recent email. "I have not had a day off since Nov. 25. There is so much to learn."

After he completes this round of training, he will serve on missions flying in and out of Afghanistan and other locations around the world. He's due to return home in June.

But Gary would be the first to acknowledge that his selfless service hasn't been his sacrifice alone. Like many thousands of other military families, Gary's wife and daughter have had to endure the emotional, financial and logistical strain of long separations; constant worrying over the safety of their loved one; and the daily reminders of his absence.

For those military families whose son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father will never return, I can only imagine that the pain must weigh even more heavily during the holidays.

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