Central Texas airman stuns family with surprise homecoming at local zoo
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A local airman on his first deployment, away for seven months from his wife and two young children, stunned his family with a surprise homecoming at Cameron Park Zoo.
Airman First Class Tristan Abney, 25, snuck up on his wife, Brittany, 21, in the aquarium area. The family had gathered for an early birthday celebration at the zoo for the couple’s son, Nicholas, who turns one next month.
Tristan told his wife he wouldn’t be home from deployment in time, so he sent a video for them to watch.
The recording, made using family pictures, was playing when Tristan snuck in and surprised his wife.
“I wasn’t expecting it all,” Brittany said. “When I saw him, I was really shocked really because someone just randomly kissed me on the cheek, and I was like ‘who was that?’”
The couple hugged and cried.
“It was a gift for her because I know she went through a lot while I was gone,” he said.
Tristan, a 2014 Connally High School graduate, joined the Air Force in 2019 just after the couple married following Brittany’s graduation from Jonesboro High School.
“We’re childhood sweethearts. We’ve known each other since I was nine and she was five. We basically dated as like kids,” he laughed.
Being gone has been hard on everyone.
The couple is currently stationed in North Dakota, but Brittany spent the deployment in Central Texas near Gatesville so her family could help.
“I knew this would be her first time taking care of the kids and everything by herself and me being gone that long,” Tristan said. “While I was out there, I was focused on how it would affect her too not just me.”
Tristan and his grandmother hatched the plan together to have the surprise homecoming at the Cameron Park Zoo. His return home was weeks ahead of what Brittany expected.
He chose the zoo as the location, he says, because it holds a special place in their hearts.
“Waco is where I grew up and, as a kid, I was always going to Cameron Park Zoo, so it was nostalgic too and my wife and my first date was Cameron Park Zoo on June 1, 2017,” he said.
The couple also got engaged at the aquarium of the Dallas Zoo.
Tristan said the Cameron Park Zoo couldn’t have been a better partner in the plan.
“The zoo was amazing. They got everything done - pictures, videos. They were able to play my slideshow for me and they didn’t charge me a thing, not even admission which my grandmother argued with them about,” he said. “So, they were amazing.”
As of Tuesday morning, the couple had begun their 18-hour trek to North Dakota where Tristan will have some family time before returning to work on July 18.
They say while they’re living in North Dakota now, they’ll never forget their true homecoming in Central Texas.
“I was crying in the pictures,” Brittany said. “You will see everybody is crying with me. It meant the world to me.”
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