Mom returns from war, surprises kids at Tacoma zoo

TACOMA — A school field trip turned into an emotional reunion for Cheyenne and Drägon Watkins on Friday morning when their mother, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristina Nicole Watkins, surprised them after her nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Hugs were followed by tears and kisses outside the carousel at Point Defiance Zoo &Aquarium as Watkins embraced daughter Cheyenne, a sixth-grader at Giaudrone Middle School, in a crowd of cheering students.

Holding hands, the two then walked to a playground near the carousel to surprise Watkins’ son Drägon, a second-grader at Whitman Elementary, whose face lit up as he jumped into his mother’s arms.

The kids knew mom was coming home soon, but they didn’t know exactly when they’d see her— and they certainly didn’t know it would be during an end-of-the-year field trip.

Watkins said she was relieved after a long trip home and a long tour overseas.

“I have been in five different countries in six different days,” she said. “I’m exhausted.”

Despite the fatigue, Watkins said she looked forward to spending the rest of the day with her children, including exploring the zoo.

Watkins said she returned home late Thursday night, but stayed at a friend’s house so as not to ruin the surprise.

She said she initially planned on surprising her children at their schools, but changed plans last minute when she found out both were scheduled for a field trip to the same place.

Watkins served as a construction mechanic at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, and was stationed at Port Hueneme in California.

She said she missed the little things about the Pacific Northwest while on her deployment, like the fresh air and greenery of Washington. And she missed the little things about her children, such as waking them up in the morning for school.

“It feels amazing,” she said of being home, “especially to have these two.”

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