It was better than a no-hitter, a game-winning homer or even a triple play.
U.S. Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Mark Wilkes of Cairo returned home early from Afghanistan to surprise his wife, Mandy Wilkes, and their children at Atlanta’s Turner Field on Saturday. The Atlanta Braves, playing the Cincinnati Redsm honored them as the “hometown heroes” of the game.
Mandy had no idea what was waiting for her when she traveled to Turner Field. Prior to the event, she was asked by the Braves to be interviewed about the hardships and challenges of being a military wife. Her story aired on the scoreboard prior to her husband’s surprise appearance.
The theme of the day was Military Appreciation Day.
“Our family was chosen to be honored for that day,” said Mandy.
Mark and Mandy met through mutual friends at work and have been married for almost three years. He has been deployed twice. Last December, he left for Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
After being separated for four months, Mandy never thought that should would see her husband at the game.
Mark said, “The first I heard of this surprise reunion was around the second week of March. I received an e-mail from my commander asking me if I would like to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience to surprise my family at an Atlanta Braves game. I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea, so I agreed to participate.”
After the airing of Mandy’s story of hardship and challenges, Mark suddenly walked out on the field to meet her and their two children — Emma, 5, and Jett, 9 months.
At that point, the Turner Field crowd raised to its feet to honor the soldier and his family.
“It was an amazing feeling seeing the stadium stand up for my husband. He definitely deserved it,” said Mandy.
Even though Mandy and the children have Skyped with Mark, nothing compared to seeing him standing in front of them on the field.
Mandy said, “I was really surprised when I saw him walking onto the field. I know the kids were really happy to see him. We all missed him.”
It was equally as emotional and exciting for Mark to see his family.
“It is hard to capture the emotion in words, but I had to I would say I was very honored and overdelighted,” said Mark.
He will be home for a while since he is in the Air National Guard.
He said, “I will go back to my ‘guard’ status shortly and go back to work at my civilian job.”
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.