Military dad returns to Mississippi, surprises son

Published 8:08 am Sunday, May 23, 2021

Staff Sgt. Michael Otts returned to Mississippi on Wednesday after an 11-month deployment with the U.S. Army National Guard to surprise his son at Lawndale Elementary School.

Lawndale Principal Talina Knight told Otts’ son, fourth grader Corbin, and his classmates that this was a special week to honor heroes in our nation, so a guest speaker would be dropping by the school to speak with them.

When the “guest speaker” walked through the door to the media center, it was Michael Otts.
Corbin, 10, sat stunned at his table for a few seconds and waved at his father before embracing him.
The students applauded and waved American flags as Otts took photos with Corbin, his wife, Sarah Otts, and their other son, 5-year-old Kolton.

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The 38-year-old Tupelo native was deployed to Kuwait on July 5, 2020, and hadn’t seen his family in almost a year.

The at-school reunion came together last minute on Wednesday morning and was a collaboration between Lawndale Elementary and Carmen Gary, principal of Parkway Elementary School where Sarah Otts works as an assistant teacher.

Michael Otts had known he’d return home in May, but had just found out on Tuesday that he’d be returning the next day.

“I was surprised,” Corbin said. “They just said that it was a special guest coming.”

While Michael Otts was overseas, his’ family was able to stay in contact with him through a video calling app, and he’s been known to participate in the occasional PTO meeting via Google Meet — even with an eight-hour time difference.

Even with the relatively easy form of communication, Sarah Otts said having her husband out of arms’ reach has been incredibly challenging.

“This is the longest we’ve been without seeing him,” she said. “He spent our first wedding anniversary in Iraq and he’s had to go to schools and things and of course AIT in the summer … Touching the phone screen is definitely not the same as touching his arm. Video call helps for sure, but it’s definitely not the same.”

Standing alongside his family in front of a banner that read “Welcome Home,” Michael Otts said, “This is my whole world right here.”

Otts is looking forward to relaxing for a few days before going returning to work at Syntron Material Handling in Saltillo.

When asked what he wants to do with his dad now that he’s home, Kolton said he’s looking forward to going to the beach.

Otts said he joined the National Guard nearly 14 years ago as “a means to better help my family out.” He’s a turbine engine mechanic, so he fixes engines on helicopters. His deployment to Kuwait was his second tour of duty, following a previous deployment to Iraq.

Knight was happy to host the reunion on her campus.

“We’re just so excited to support our community members who are giving back to us so faithfully overseas and here in our own country,” Knight said. “That’s what it’s all about.”