Back from Iraq

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Son surprised at school by father's return home

By Kathryn Jacewicz, Staff writer

When a half dozen reporters, photographers and videographers gathered in Mandi Young’s first-grade Belville Elementary School classroom Thursday afternoon, students were told they were there to interview Karen Coughlin, Young’s teacher assistant who was recently named Brunswick County Teacher Assistant of the Year.


First-grader Brennan Kosmeh had no idea the media was really there for him and to capture his reaction to a big surprise.

Brennan’s father, John Kosmeh, had been in Iraq since September and was surprising Brennan at school with news he was home to stay.

Kosmeh left his job as a paramedic in New Hanover County to work under a government contract as a paramedic at medical clinics on combat bases across Iraq. Although Kosmeh was not in the military, he felt it was his duty to serve his country.

“I’ve always had a respect for the military,” he said.

But before he left, he made a promise to his wife, Marty, that if his absence became too difficult for the family to handle, he’d break his contract and come home.

Brennan never adjusted to his father being gone.

“I just couldn’t stop crying,” Brennan said.

He had pictures of his family on his desk and in his folder at school that he needed to look at every day.

“I just couldn’t go anywhere without them,” Brennan said.

“If they were not in his folder, we had an emotional day,” Young added.

Young knew firsthand how hard it was to have a father leave the family. Her father left three times to serve in the Army when she was growing up.

To help Brennan cope, she set aside time every Wednesday afternoon for Kosmeh to call Brennan at school. The two would have a 10-15 minute conversation, and it always included the question, “When are you coming home?”

“It was kind of hard to listen to,” Young said.

Being overseas was just as hard on Kosmeh as it was on Brennan.

“The hardest thing I ever did was getting out of the car at the airport,” Kosmeh said.

Listening to Brennan ask when he was coming home every week “killed me.”

“He’s my best friend,” Kosmeh explained.

So making good on the promise to his wife, Kosmeh decided to take the 22-hour flight and come home.

“It was just time to come back,” he said. “The family was the most important thing.”

After making an unusual Thursday afternoon phone call to Brennan at school, Kosmeh walked through the classroom door minutes later. A surprised Brennan looked at his dad and asked, “What are you doing here?” before throwing his arms around his neck and hugging him tightly.

“I was really excited,” Brennan said of seeing his dad for the first time in months. “It was really hard for me to be without him.”

Kosmeh said while he was grateful for the experience to go overseas, it made him appreciate the military’s efforts even more,

“These guys are out there every single night without the choice to come home,” Kosmeh said. “I had a choice.”

An appreciation for the military is something he has taught Brennan, and he said his son often goes up to soldiers in public and tells them thank-you for their service.

Brennan said he is proud of his dad for making the decision to go help the soldiers in Iraq, but he couldn’t be happier to have him back home to walk him into school, play video games and catch up on quality time.

“But we’re first going to Chuck E. Cheese’s,” Brennan said.