For Naomi Otachel, it was a Halloween surprise that was weeks in the making. Naomi, a kindergartner at St. Thomas of Villanova School in Palatine, was dressed in her Smurfette costume when her father, U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Konrad Otachel, returned from almost 15 months away from home. “Her mother told me weeks ago that he was coming home, and I asked, would you like her to meet him at school?” said Mary Brinkman. “She was delighted.” So the school began planning. First there was a kindergarten writing assignment, asking students to write about one of their parents. “We had to make it homework so her mom could make sure she wrote about her dad,” Brinkman said. “She wrote on both the front and back of her paper. Of course, for a kindergartner, that’s about six sentences.” Then the school set up an event that they told students was a blessing for people serving in the military. It had to be the day before Halloween — the day students came to school in costume — because that was the day Otachel’s two-week quarantine was ending, and no one wanted the family to wait over the weekend to be reunited. The kindergarten class was chosen to come out to the flagpole, each child standing inside a red or blue hula hoop to keep them socially distanced, while the rest of the students watched from their classrooms. After an introduction, Brinkman asked which student had a parent in the military. “I pretended I forgot,” Brinkman said. “She raised her hand and I invited her to come to the front to lead us in a Hail Mary.” That placed Naomi with her back to the school door, and was the cue for Otachel to come out of the building, with Naomi’s mother, Marlleny, following to get the reunion on video. When the prayer was done, Brinkman asked Naomi to read her composition, which ended with, “I really want my daddy to come home.” “I said, ‘Sometimes God helps dreams come true,’” Brinkman said. “And I told her to turn around.” At first, Naomi stood, stunned, then said, “Daddy’s back?” before accepting the flowers he brought and being wrapped in his arms. “She was 3 the last time she saw him,” Brinkman said. Otachel’s most recent deployment was at the U.S. Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia, an atoll of the Chagos Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory, located seven degrees south of the equator, which provides logistic support to operational forces deployed to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf areas. He was previously stationed in Philadelphia, Virginia, Illinois and Bahrain, moving every two to three years. He will retire from the Navy in February 2021 after 22 years of service. Once they were reacquainted, Otachel carried his daughter around the building, waving to the students who were still in their classrooms. Some of the older classes had learned what was really going on, so signs welcoming Otachel adorned windows in the back of the building, where Naomi wouldn’t see them too soon. “When it was over, Naomi said ‘Bye, Daddy! I have to go back to school!’” Brinkman said. But when she was called out of class a bit later, before her parents left the building, Naomi ran and jumped into her father’s arms. “It was cute to see,” Brinkman said. The ceremony also included participation from the local American Legion post, priests who have served as military chaplains and St. Thomas of Villanova’s pastor, Father Kris Janczak.