A soldier comes home: Staff Sgt. Joshua Ochoa surprises his three kids in Ridgefield

Wide eyed, open-mouthed incomprehension grew into beaming joy as 10-year-old Josh Ochoa grasped the reality before him.

His soldier dad had just popped out of a giant gift box — and he was home from overseas.

Now the family would all be together for Christmas and New Year’s and the days, weeks, months ahead. Dad — Staff Sgt. Joshua Ochoa — was back with them all: Josh, his sisters Lianie, 14, and Jolaine, 3, and their mom Stephanie.

“Happy!” Josh said when asked how it felt. “And excited at the same time — I wasn’t expecting it.”

Staff Sgt. Ochoa’s homecoming Tuesday was orchestrated as a surprise that all of Scotland Elementary School got to watch at a school-wide assembly ostensibly about the Toys for Tots program.

“I just wanted to say thanks from the bottom of my heart for allowing me the opportunity to surprise my son,” Staff Sgt. Ochoa told an assembly that included the students, teachers and staff, and some parents. “It’s been nine long months. And I appreciate everything you do.”

The assembly in Scotland’s auditorium at 9:30 a.m. mirrored similar events that took place earlier that morning at Ridgefield High School, where Lianie Ochoa was surprised by her father’s appearance at her psychology class at 7:30 a.m.

“I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do,” Lianie said. “I stood there for about 10 seconds almost. I thought it was going to be a speaker on stress management.”

And after Josh’s surprise at Scotland, the family left to enact another Dad-for-Christmas event for Jolaine, 3, at St. Mary’s pre-school.

“I just think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for everyone who was in the room, and I am honored to be a part of it,” said Scotland Principal Jill Katkocin.

“Josh wanted to surprise all three kids this time,” said Stephanie, Staff Sgt. Ochoa’s wife. “So I called the schools, and they just took it and ran.”

“I came back from Africa, nine months. I was in Djibouti,” Staff Sgt. Ochoa told The Press.

He is a 13-year Army veteran.

“This was his fourth deployment,” Stephanie said.

Young Josh went from shock to a hug in a little less time than his sister’s estimated 10 seconds of astonishment, it seemed.

Scotland School’s Toys for Tots assembly was a ruse that worked well, since there was an obvious reason to have a giant box with a bow atop it in the front of the auditorium.

It also gave fifth grade teacher Tom DiMarzo — Josh’s teacher, who led the assembly — a good reason to talk about the military.

“Toys for Tots, the Marines set up the program in 1947. Can anyone do the math as to how long that is? Seventy-two years,” DiMarzo said.

Toys are donated, he said.

“What the Marines do is they distribute them to children who are less fortunate than we are — they might not have as many toys as we do,” DiMarzo said.

He asked if students could name other branches of the military and the crowd quickly did: Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard.

“How many people know someone in the military?”

Kids, Josh among them, raised their hands

“Josh, come on up,” DiMarzo said.

He explained he’d picked Josh because he was in his class.

Who did Josh know in the military?

“My Dad,” Josh said.

Where’s he serving right now?


DiMarzo then went into a routine about his Christmas magical powers, and how they needed a little help.

The entire school had to say “Abrakadabra-Kalamazoo!”

“Who’s from Kalamazoo, Michigan?” DiMarzo asked. “Derek Jeter!”

Since “Abrakadabra-Kalamazoo” didn’t make anything magic happen, he asked the kids to do it and then shout “One, two, three” — really loud.

They did that. Really loud.

“Abrakadabra-Kalamazoo: One, two three!”

And Staff Sgt. Ochoa popped of the giant gift-wrapped box — in full army camouflage.

And 10-year-old Josh’s face went from astonishment to joy just before he ran to his dad and gave him a long and very real hug.