By Matt Kane
DELANO Kassondra Sage stopped in her tracks when she neared the threshold of the Delano Middle School office door, near the main entrance, her eyes wide open, trying to register the sight of the person standing inside, just 20 feet away.
It was her father, Gordon Sage.
Those brown, teen eyes hadn’t stared into Gordon Sage’s eyes in eight months without the help of a video phone or photograph, which kept the two connected from two places worlds away.
Kassondra’s world was in Delano as a typical eighth grader, worrying about what she would wear every day, and how her hair looked.
Gordon Sage’s world was worrying about protecting himself and dozens of other Americans just like him, who were out of their element in the beige deserts of Afghanistan. His hair was always cropped tight, and his wardrobe featured nothing but MultiCam patterns, the favorite of the US Army.
After Kassondra took a brief moment to register who was standing in front of her, as well as a few other family members and several school employees who couldn’t miss the moment, she let out a nervous, “Oh my God,” then proceded to meet her father halfway for a tight embrace, ironically in front of the American flag displayed in the office.
“I’m happy and excited,” said Kassondra, who was not expecting her father’s return from Afghanistan until April. “I actually get to hug him and stuff.”
Kassondra’s hug with her dad, Gordon, occurred Oct. 20, which was the final day of school before the MEA break. The embrace came five months earlier than Kassondra expected it to.
Kassondra’s initial thoughts, when called to the office and excused from history class an hour before the day’s final bell, had her mind racing. She remembered that her mother, Joy Bradley, told her and her older brother, Derrick, that they were getting photos taken after school. But there was also another thought, related to Gordon, that crossed her mind.
“The nurse was right by my room, so I figured I was going to the office because of her. But she was just talking to one of the teachers,” she said.
When she first saw her dad, Kassondra’s worries remained.
“What’s wrong,” Kassondra admitted thinking. “I didn’t expect him to come home at all, so, when I saw him, my thoughts were ‘What happened?’”
What happened is that Gordon, with the help of Joy, his ex-wife, and Faith Sage, his current wife, managed to surprise Kassondra and, later, Derrick, at school after returning home on leave from Afghanistan early.
“It was a pretty slick idea,” said Gordon. “I liked picking them up at school like this, and surprising them was cool.”
Faith Sage spoke about setting up the surprise.
“This weekend, I knew the kids were going to be out [for MEA], so I thought it would be kind of cool to have him come to school and surprise the kids and pick them up, and, of course I had to enlist [Joy’s] help to do all this. Thankfully, we get along very well and could do this,” Faith said. “It went perfectly.”
After surprising Kassondra, Gordon and his entourage which included Joy, Faith, Gordon and Faith’s 7-year-old daughter, Chainey, Joy’s daughter, Ashley, a fifth grader, and, now, Kassondra walked the sidewalk outside the schools to the high school, where the surprise plan was put to work on Derrick, Gordon and Joy’s freshman son.
This time, the group hid in a conference room inside the office. As Derrick signed out after being released from English class early, Gordon and the group walked out of the boardroom. Not until Gordon was 15 feet in front of him did Derrick look up to see who was walking his way.
“Dad,” Derrick said. “What are you doing here?”
In an embarrassed tone, Derrick continued, “You can’t do that to me.”
Derrick’s surprise mirrored Kassondra’s.
“It kind of surprised me actually. I didn’t expect him to be home this early,” Derrick said.
Derrick already had ideas of what he wanted to do with his dad.
“Tomorrow is his birthday, so that will be fun,” he said Wednesday. “I actually wanted to go fishing with him when he got back because it would be spring, but I guess I can go fishing with him now.”
The secret that Gordon was home was actually kept from Kassondra and Derrick for over a week. Gordon arrived home Oct. 12, over a week before he picked the two up from school.
That first week was spent with Faith and Chainey, and the married couple used part of the time to celebrate its wedding anniversary.
“I knew about [him coming home] about a month ago, so we thought it would be cool [to keep it a secret],” Faith explained.
Two more of Gordon’s kids were driving north from Missouri to see him later last week.
“It’s really good. It’s been a long time,” Gordon said of his return home. “We’ve been gone since February, so it’s been about eight months. That’s a long time to be away from your kids.”
Gordon got back to his American life doing yard work at his and Faith’s Buffalo home, cleaning his auto shop, and playing with the kids but his American dream was interrupted, again, Thursday morning, when he deployed back to Afghanistan.
Gordon is a member of the 353rd Transportation Company out of Buffalo. The company was deployed in 2008, but Gordon was unable to go because of a medical issue. After he was cleared, Gordon was cross-leveled to the 425th Transportation Company out of Salina, Kansas, in February. The company deployed to Afghanistan April 12. Gordon is expected to return home in March or April.
In March, Gordon will have served in the Army Reserves for 19 years. He is a staff sergeant with convoy security in Afghanistan.