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Fort Gordon soldier pays surprise visit to Jenkins White Elementary pupil

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 5:34 PM
Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 2:02 AM
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Lunchtime was almost over, and Janiah Norman had just finished her lasagna and strawberry milk when she spotted him at the cafeteria door.

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Janiah Norman, 7, is surprised by Pfc. Rodolfo Tellado during lunch at Jenkins White Elementary Charter School. Tellado, who is dating Janiah's mother, Jessica, just returned from 13 months in South Korea.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Janiah Norman, 7, is surprised by Pfc. Rodolfo Tellado during lunch at Jenkins White Elementary Charter School. Tellado, who is dating Janiah's mother, Jessica, just returned from 13 months in South Korea.

Pfc. Rodolfo Tellado was walking toward her in Army fatigues and combat boots, with a shy smile growing across his face.

Thirteen grueling months had passed while he was stationed in South Korea as a communications specialist. Janiah had had to settle for short phone calls and occasional Skype chats.

To her surprise, though, here in front of dozens of classmates was Tellado, the man who had become the father Janiah never really had.

She sat in shock as the other Jenkins White Elementary Charter School pupils craned their necks in curiosity.

Tellado walked slowly to Janiah’s seat, saluted her with his right hand and squeezed her tight as she threw her arms around his waist.

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Janiah said through tears.

Janiah is not Tellado’s biological daughter, but he said he loves her as though she were.

He met Janiah’s mother, Jessica Norman, 25, shortly after being stationed at Fort Gordon in September 2012.

They started as friends. Norman was a little put off by his being three years younger, but in a short time they became inseparable. Norman loved his smile and how they laughed while dancing to Michael Jackson the Experience on Nintendo Wii. But what won her heart was watching Tellado with her daughter.

Since Janiah was born, Norman fought hard to have the girl’s biological father be in her life, but she finally had to stop trying.

Tellado, though, didn’t have to be asked to participate. It was organic. Norman said he would read Janiah’s favorite books out loud and even crawl on the ground to play with her baby dolls.

“It affected her not having a father, and (Tellado) saw that and wanted to be there,” Norman said.

Tellado said it helps knowing what such a void can feel like.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Tellado was raised mostly by his aunt and grandmother. His mother died when he was in the ninth grade, and his father “was always elsewhere.”

He said he often felt an ache for a man to talk to about sports, girls and just worries on his mind.

When he met Janiah, Tellado said, their bond was instant.

“I didn’t have a father figure, and people that know what that’s like kind of gravitate toward each other,” he said. “I wanted to be there for her.”

Norman said she and Tellado wanted to surprise Janiah during lunch Wednesday to make a special memory for the beginning of a new chapter.

The three of them will soon move to Fort Stewart, near Savannah, Ga., where Tellado will be stationed for at least the next seven months.

They made the visit to Jenkins White after Tellado spent more than 20 hours in the air, hopping planes from South Korea to Japan to Seattle to Dallas, and arriving in Savannah late Tuesday night.

After the surprise in the cafeteria, they walked Janiah back to her class, where Assistant Principal Cheryl Fry introduced Tellado to the pupils as one of the bravest kind of men the community has.

The class gave him a round of applause for his service as Janiah beamed.

With Tellado still jet-lagged, the couple left Janiah to finish the school day and pondered what they should do with their first full afternoon together.

“How about Michael Jackson Wii?” Norman asked, smiling.

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TrulyWorried 03/05/14 - 06:51 pm
A happy girl

and a happy story - we need more folks like that in this world! God bless you all.

Dixieman 03/05/14 - 10:00 pm
Happy story

Photo captions give girl's age but text of story does not. And what grade is she in? Otherwise A++ story from AC and thanks for running it!

iaaffg 03/06/14 - 06:10 am
the smile says it all!

the smile says it all!

myfather15 03/06/14 - 07:29 am
Oh my gosh, what an awesome,

Oh my gosh, what an awesome, happy story!! Boy, do we need more and more of these. When I read and look at the picture, I honestly can't get the smile off my face.

CobaltGeorge 03/06/14 - 08:19 am
It Sure Is A Great Pleasure

to wake up in the AM and read something like this. It sort of buries the daily news for a few minutes of the Destruction of America and the corrupt government we are living in.

Welcome Home Brother.

Itsallnew11 03/06/14 - 09:38 am
God Bless you for your service...

Thank you for your sacrifices and commitment not only to our great US of A but to this precious child.

justthefacts 03/06/14 - 10:28 am
Very nice indeed

There was one a few weeks ago where a young cheerleader spotted her returning soldier Dad in the stands at a game. Priceless.

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