BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - A Minnesota National Guardsman made a huge splash on his return from a deployment to Afghanistan when he surprised his children as Scuba Claus at the Mall of America’s Sea Life Aquarium, Dec. 22. First Lt. Nick Aldrich, executive officer for the 850th Horizontal Engineer Company, returned to Minnesota with his unit just in time to celebrate Christmas with his family.
“It’s huge,” said Aldrich. “The entire time we’ve been gone, it’s all you think about. To be able to come back before Christmas to see my kids and my wife, it’s amazing.”
Aldrich and his wife, Britta, have four children: Teagan, 8; Jace, 6; Solveij, 3 and Esmae, 7 months. Esmae was born three months into the deployment and Aldrich saw and held her for the first time at the Aquarium.
As soon as the unit’s flight landed at the airport, Aldrich was whisked away to the Mall of America for the reunion with his family which was orchestrated by Sea Life Aquarium. The family was driven separately to the aquarium where the children thought they were going to see Scuba Claus.
Once at the Aquarium, Aldrich was suited up into a wetsuit and Santa costume and brought into the tank to swim with the fishes and sharks. When the children were underneath, Aldrich held up a sign that said, “Hello from Scuba Claus,” on one side. One the other side it said, “And a special hello to Britta, Teagan, Jace, Solveij and Esmae! Hi! It’s Dad! I’m Home!”
The oldest, Teagan, read the sign out loud and her face lit up when she realized what she was reading and told her siblings the news. The children were then reunited with their dad on top of the tank for a big, wet hug.
“They’re going to remember this their whole life,” said Aldrich. “They’ve also dedicated a lot of this year to service as well. I’ve been over there with the Army, but they’ve been here waiting for me and wanting me to be home but I couldn’t so this is a great reward for them to be able to close out the deployment.”
The 850th Horizontal Engineer Company is based in Cambridge, Minn., and soldiers from the unit conducted repairs and improvements to convoy and supply routes in Afghanistan, cleared mine fields, improved drainage, deconstructed non-essential bases and built a resiliency center, a gym and multiple guard towers.
“I feel blessed that I’m able to do this here today,” said Aldrich. “I feel blessed that everyone in my company made it home safe. I’m blessed that my family is going to be here and we’re going to be able to be together now.”
The Aldriches will spend the Christmas holiday spending time with family and catching up on lost time.
“It was so special and such a blessing to be able to do this,” said Britta Aldrich. “It’s exciting enough to have him come home after being gone so long, but then to be able to do it in such a fun way was great. It’s everything that you would wish for to have your husband come home for Christmas.”