Angie Schraeger of Morristown thought she would grab some pizza with a friend, and return home for a quiet evening on Tuesday.
She walked into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” from family and friends laying in wait at The Godfather pizzeria. Then, a late Christmas present / early birthday gift emerged from hiding in the kitchen: Her husband Bryan, back from Army duty in Iraq.
“What are you doing here!” Angie exclaimed, jumping into Bryan’s arms.
He deployed last June. She had not expected to see him again until March.
Video: “The best birthday gift ever.”
When the Army’s plans changed, Bryan decided to deliver the good news in person. He left Al Asad just before Iran hit the U.S. air base with missiles last week in response to the air strike that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.
“God was with me,” said Bryan, 30.
Nobody was harmed by the missile attack, luckily. Bryan, an X-ray technician, spent several days at a military base in Texas before flying home to New Jersey on Tuesday.
Angie thought Bryan was redeployed to Kuwait. That’s because he disguised his texts from the Lone Star State with an app showing Kuwait time.
“You were in Texas this whole time? My God!” gasped Angie, who turns 28 on Friday.
Tuesday’s revelers included Angie’s friend Steffanie Morales, who carried out the pizza ruse; Steffanie’s dad, the Rev. David Silva, a town councilman who is the Schraegers’ pastor at the Centro Biblico church; Angie’s parents; and Bryan’s mother. She was taken by surprise, too.
Also in on the secret: Angie’s boss. Bryan reached out to the medical company where Angie works, and quietly arranged time off for her later this month. The couple will vacation in Jamaica.
Bryan’s in no hurry to hit the beach, however. He saw enough sand in Iraq. “It’s very fine and dusty–it gets everywhere,” he said.
Iraq was the first overseas deployment for the 12-year veteran, who endured plenty of jokes as the only Jerseyan attached to a medical brigade of the Arizona National Guard.
Mike Pence paid a Thanksgiving visit to Al Asad, but Bryan said he was assigned to the X-ray ward and never saw the Vice President.
Angie said she cried for days when Bryan shipped out last year.
“But duty calls…I knew it was going to happen eventually,” she said, noting her husband loves military service.
Married for almost three years, Bryan and Angie met on a blind date. Although he left her in the dark about his return, she appeared to prefer holding him to holding a grudge.
“I forgive him,” Angie said, savoring her surprise.