Archive for October, 2012

GI Bill Tip: Establishing Residency for In-State Tuition

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Tuition costsYesterday, we brought you the saga of Kayleigh Perez, a spouse of an active duty soldier stationed in North Carolina who was denied residency status by the University of North Carolina.

A bit of digging revealed why – and some lessons for other servicemembers and their families as they transition to schools in new states.


Under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill rules, establishing residency in a state system is crucial to maximizing GI Bill benefits, because GI Bill benefits only cover in-state tuition.

Until the beginning of 2011, the Post-9/11 GI Bill would pay up to the highest in-state tuition rate anywhere in the state. Buy as of fiscal year 2011, Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are capped at the actual tuition for in-state servicemembers. This is true even though the same servicemember would receive even greater benefits – up to $17,500 per year – attending a private institution. The result is a perverse incentive to attend a more expensive school.

This was a big deal for Ms. Perez, because the out-of-state tuition puts the Broke in UNC-Pembroke: it’s $12,219. That’s compared to a price tag of $3,012 if she qualified for in-state tuition, which is all she’d get from the Post-9/11 GI Bill in any case. By selecting Methodist University – a private institution – over the UNC system, Perez can qualify for a benefit of up to $17,500 per year, and potentially pay nothing out of pocket.

So why was Ms. Perez’s application for residency denied? After all, the State of North Carolina grants residency status to active duty servicemembers stationed in North Carolina and to their dependents alike. Well, as with so many things, the devil is in the details.

Timing Matters

Under North Carolina law, residency for service members and their families begins as of the effective date of their orders transferring them to their new command. This means that your wife doesn’t get to qualify for residency status in North Carolina if you send her over first to find a new place for you. And North Carolina doesn’t allow residency based on a set of PCS orders that haven’t been executed yet. The servicemember has to be present in North Carolina and on duty at the new duty station before the beginning of the term for which the service member is applying for benefits.

Per the University of North Carolina:

The active duty service member must produce a “Command confirmation of residency letter” from their commanding officer on official letterhead. In the event that a service member is deployed and their dependent needs this letter – the commanding officer or the family readiness officer can provide this to the dependent. The service member must officially assume the duty station in North Carolina prior to the beginning of the term for which they are seeking the military tuition benefit.

The policy is relatively restrictive on the front end, but it favors the student on the back end:

Suppose Ms. Perez enrolled for the summer semester, and qualified for in-state tuition. But then her husband received PCS orders transferring him to another state on day two of the semester. Ms. Perez would get to finish the entire semester in North Carolina at in-state rates. Further, she can stay at UNC for as long as she’s continuously enrolled. UNC won’t strip her in-state tuition price tag because her husband got transferred somewhere else, as long as she stays enrolled, with one condition: Her husband must still maintain residency in North Carolina, documented on his LES after the second term, and be able to show that residency status for the previous 12 months. As long as her husband’s LES says his home of record and income tax withholding is in North Carolina, his wife is good to go, no matter where her husband is serving.

This is why knowing the specific rules governing residency in your state is important. Each state has its own rules governing eligibility. But in any case, it’s a good idea to secure a command confirmation of residency letter on unit letterhead.

Here’s a sample letter to show your unit clerk, first sergeant, CPO or commander to demonstrate residency for dependents. Here is a sample for the servicemember’s own personal application.

Even if your state doesn’t formally require a command confirmation of residency, it won’t hurt your application to include it anyway. Many times, the decision to grant residency for in-state tuition purposes can be subjective. There’s no kill like an overkill, so make the rubble bounce.

Group of Marines Needs Your Help to Achieve Veterans Day Mission

Posted by Kelli McKinney

The Fight ContinuesThis Veterans Day is the first since the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. To commemorate the occasion and honor our soldiers, a non-profit group called The Fight Continues will attempt something that has never been done: to publicly recognize every fallen soldier from every conflict since America’s birth. And they need our help. Take a look at their story here.

They seek:

  • 600 host locations across the U.S.
  • volunteers to read approximately 1,750 names over the course of 2-3 hours (total of approximately 600K names)

Each reading will take place at the same time at locations across the country, creating the largest Veterans Day event in history. This is an event created by veterans, honoring veterans.

OIF veterans James Sperry and Eric Calley created The Fight Continues when they returned home from the war. Their purpose is to honor and educate the public about the sacrifices made by military families.

If you or your organization would like to help, contact The Fight Continues via the information on their website.

UNC Denies Residency Status to Veteran – Charges Out-Of-State Tuition Rates

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

hayleigh perez UNC tuitionThe University of North Carolina is charging out-of-state tuition rates to a U.S. Army veteran who claims she has long maintained a residence within the state. Hayleigh Perez, 26, enlisted in the Army in 2005, and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. According to reporting by ABC News’s Susanna Kim, Perez deployed overseas in January 2007 for a 15-month tour. She returned in 2008 and was discharged in September 2009. She is married to an active-duty servicemember.

The couple own a home in North Carolina, but had been living in Texas for several years, where her husband was stationed. Now her husband has been transferred back to North Carolina.

Hayleigh is now trying to attend the University of North Carolina on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Benefits only cover in-state tuition costs. But the University has denied her application to residency status due to her absence from the state while she was living in Texas.

Ms. Perez appealed to the State Residency Board, which also denied her appeal.


Residency requirements and criteria are generally a function of state law. There is no uniform set of standards that apply across the country, and each state is free to set its own residency criteria for its own college and university systems.

The State of North Carolina points to the set of laws passed by the North Carolina legislature that guides officials on how to determine eligibility for in-state tuition.

Here is the Residency Manual published by the State of North Carolina specifically to define the criteria for college officials.

While it is true that applicants must generally demonstrate that they are domiciled in North Carolina to receive state tuition, page 16 of their own manual contains the following passage:

Under the special in-state tuition laws for active duty military personnel and their eligible family members, if a non-resident member of the armed services is stationed in North Carolina because of his or her active duty military service, then the service member as well as his or her spouse, dependent children, and dependent relatives who are living with the service member shall be charged the in-state tuition rate along with any applicable mandatory fees.

Perez’s husband received orders to return to North Carolina in April of 2012.

In addition, North Carolina defines the residency eligibility for dependents of active duty servicemembers in black letter law:

Any dependent relative of a member of the Armed Forces who is abiding in this State incident to active military duty, as defined by the Board of Governors of The University of North Carolina and by the State Board of Community Colleges while sharing the abode of that member shall be eligible to be charged the inState tuition rate, if the dependent relative qualifies for admission to an institution of higher education as defined in G.S. 116143.1(a)(3).

It is not clear why the residency board decided not to apply this part of the law in Perez’s case, though the law does say that she has to share the abode of her servicemember sponsor to qualify.

More details here. According to reporting from the Fayetteville Observer, Perez did not provide sufficient documentation to buttress her claim to residency. However, all it would take to demonstrate residency under the criteria established above would be a copy of her husband’s orders and a dependent military ID, along with documentation that she was sharing an abode with her husband. Fayetteville State University – another campus in the UNC system, accepted her residency status – it was only the UNC-Pembroke campus that did not.

Sandy Briscar, acting as a spokesperson for the University of North Carolina Pembroke, declined to comment on Perez’s case specifically, citing HIPAA concerns, other than to say that Perez had applied for the spring semester, and at that time, she had not submitted sufficient documentation to UNC Pembroke to demonstrate that she was entitled to residency status.

One issue: Timing. According to Pembroke campus spokesperson Sandy Briscar, Perez applied for the spring semester – which was almost over by the time her husband arrived in North Carolina in April.

If you are considering applying for in-state tuition in a state you plan to move to after receiving PCS orders, it may make sense to ask, in writing, if the campus will accept PCS orders as proof of domicile for the purpose of establishing residency. If the school responds in writing, you have something to include with your application – and something on which to base an appeal if the residency decision doesn’t go your way.

Jodi Worthington, a spokesperson for the University of North Carolina system responded to our requests for more information. “Because Ms. Perez’s circumstances have changed and her husband is now stationed in North Carolina, she would be considered an in-state resident were she to re-apply to a UNC institution now,” said Worthington, both by phone and by email. “We would encourage her to do so.”

It was not immediately clear why her application for residency status was approved at Fayetteville State University but denied at Pembroke.

We asked the UNC if a military family could apply for in-state tuition status once they had the PCS orders in hand, or if they had to wait until they were actually present in North Carolina before the application could be approved, and why the two campuses came to different conclusions about her eligibility for residency status. At press time, the UNC has not responded. We will update this story when they do.

Meanwhile, Ms. Perez has decided to attend a private college in the area, where she intends to pursue a degree as a physician’s assistant.


Photo credit: ABC News

Determined Boy + Marine = Inspiring

Posted by Kelli McKinney

I saw this video last night, and my first reaction, surprisingly, wasn’t to reach for the tissue. It wasn’t to hug my child who, thankfully, is healthy and happy. Nor was it to reflect on the tenacity of the human spirit, which drives children like Ben to overcome obstacles and reassures parents faced with tough decisions like the Baltzes faced five years ago. That’s when they had to decide whether or not to have Ben’s right leg amputated to stop their young son’s bone cancer.

No, my reaction was embarrassingly simple: Of course the Marine helped him. What else would he do?

This is the stuff our military men and women are made of. When Pfc Matthew Morgan, who at 19 is only a few years older than the young man completing the triathlon, saw that Ben Baltz fell, his natural response was to go to him and offer help. Our servicemembers stand ready to go out and care for others. To lift others up so they go on and achieve great things. That’s who they are.

Even though it wasn’t surprising or revelatory, it was still a beautiful thing to see.

The Marines were at the Sea Turtle Tri-Kids Triathlon last weekend with the sole purpose of helping. They volunteered their time and talent to help set up, to police the area, and to encourage the kids as they swam 150 yards, rode four miles and ran a mile. These physical challenges might not even cause the Marines to break a sweat, but they are taxing for the youngsters competing, and they’re even more taxing when you’re a kid relying on a prosthetic leg.

What inspired me the most about this story was something that Ben’s mom was reported to have said. She was quoted in a Yahoo news story as saying that her son was a little aggravated that his mechanics failed and he had to have help to finish. As a mother of a determined young man, I get it. He wants to do it himself and succeed on his own merits. I’m so very grateful for kids like that. Like most of us, Ben Baltz doesn’t want to be someone who wants to relies on others to meet his personal goals.

So this fantastic bundle of determination and frustration meets a Marine, whose only thought was to help the kid achieve what he set out to do. After all, he’d come so far; there was no reason why he shouldn’t cross those last few yards to the finish line as a champion, right? As hard as they work to avoid it, even the toughest, most battle-hardened warrior has to be helped off the battlefield sometimes.

And here’s where a lot of the tears seemed to flow among the spectators. Because there was our Marine, lifting Ben Baltz high and proud, joined by fellow Marines, who demonstrated solidarity and support for a young man who probably doesn’t even realize what an inspiration he is to others.

Whatever Ben Baltz does next in his life, he has the support and encouragement of those 22 Marines behind him. He has the immeasurable love of his parents behind him. And he has the silent cheers of the tens of thousands of people who have seen his victory mile and are motivated by his potential. People who might otherwise be discouraged in their own situation will see this amazing kid who has already beaten cancer and completed a triathlon and find a spark of encouragement to keep going.

Cheers to you, young Ben, and to you Pfc Morgan, for your steadfast determination, honor, and service. Thank you for giving us hope and helping us believe that we can achieve anything we set our mind to – and reminding us that when things go wonky, we can rely on the strong shoulders of our brothers and sisters in the Marine Corps (and all our Armed Services) to dust us off and bring us safely to the goal.

VA Won’t Pay for PTSD Service Dogs. Should They?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Service dogs for PTSDThe battle’s been brewing for years. Veterans coming back from wars with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other psychological ailments such as depression and anxiety disorders that may or may not be directly related to trauma, are fighting to claim a benefit: A trained service dog – at government expense.

The problem: The expense is significant. It can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 to breed and fully train a service dog. And the Veterans Administration says it has more productive uses for the money.

Veterans groups and a loose association of dog breeders and trainers that have formed a small cottage industry providing service dogs to veterans, of course. And the veterans who have them love their service dogs and are grateful for the benefit. But after reviewing the issue, and after a period of public comment, the Veterans Administration has elected not to cover service dogs for PTSD and other psychiatric conditions.

Service dogs have long been used to help vision-impaired and hearing-impaired people and people with mobility issues. And the benefits and cost-effectiveness of seeing-eye dogs for the blind has been accepted for years.

Originally, the VA could only provide seeing-eye dogs to blind veterans. However, President George W. Bush expanded that authorization when he signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act, which authorized the Veterans Administration to provide service dogs as a benefit for other conditions as well. However, in a 2007 memorandum, the VA concluded that there was not sufficient evidence that service dogs were a cost-effective remedy for vision and mobility-impaired veterans. However, the VA left the door open to providing a service dog on a case-by-case basis to individuals who could show that the therapeutic value of a dog and the potential cost savings over other forms of therapy justified the use.

In 2009, Congress voted to expand authorization of a service dog benefit to veterans with mental illnesses. And in 2010, Congress passed the Franken Amendment, which directed the executive branch to launch a three-year pilot program to study the therapeutic effects of service dogs for PTSD.

So What Can a Dog Do?

According to the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, a trained service dog can help an individual with PTSD or other depressive or anxiety disorders in the following ways:

  • Help overcome reclusiveness by accompanying the individual on trips outside the home
  • Awaken an individual suffering from night terrors
  • Turn on a light to alleviate night terrors
  • Help with hypervigilance by searching a room for intruders
  • Interruption of dissociative spell
  • Alert and intervene or distract in moments of emotional escalation

Benefits of Pet Ownership

There is little doubt that pet ownership correlates strongly with improved mental and physical health outcomes. Studies indicate that pet owners are less likely to commit suicide, get more exercise, are less likely to have heart attacks, and less likely to suffer from severe depression than those with no pets. It is not clear to what extent that relationship between pet ownership and improved health outcomes is causative versus correlative. For example, people who are more active may be more likely to go out and adopt a pet in the first place.

In any event, though, it is not necessary to have a highly-trained service animal with a five-figure price tag to realize these benefits. Most of the beneficial effects can be had with any reasonably well-behaved and affectionate dog, without any specialized training whatsoever.

So the argument for highly trained service animals for PTSD patients at government expense must go beyond the basic therapeutic effects that you can get with any good pet, and address the possible law of diminishing returns. It is possible that the government could spend larger and larger sums for trained service animals for smaller and smaller benefits.

Testing the Theory

It occurred to us that if there is any validity to the use of service dogs to treat PTSD, they would already be in common use among psychiatric patients in other contexts – possibly for rape survivors. Are dogs effective in helping rape survivors recover and function? Do they help with agoraphobia symptoms, and hypervigilance? And if they do, are they typically professionally trained and certified service dogs? What do women do who are survivors themselves but who don’t qualify for VA services? Do they seek out trained dogs? Is the benefit powerful enough that those who can afford it choose to pay for the costs associated with a trained dog with their own money?

It turns out that there is, indeed, a precedent for the use of dogs to help survivors of rape and other violent crimes overcome anxiety and other PTSD symptoms. Service Dogs for Victims of Assault, which is now defunct, was formed in 1999 to help provide dogs to survivors and raise awareness of their value in helping survivors. We spoke to their chief clinical practitioner, Carmen Davis, Ph.D., via telephone.

Dr. Davis’s Portland, Oregon practice centers largely on patients who are struggling with PTSD, often through severe child abuse. Symptoms include dissociative disorders – a psychological phenomenon in which the patient re-experiences the trauma. Other therapists sometimes refer patients to him if there is a potential need or desire for a service dog.

Davis was not familiar with any clinical studies demonstrating the effectiveness of service dogs for the PTSD population, though he did report positive results on an anecdotal basis. However, none of his patients required dogs that needed extremely high-end, specialized training that would result in a five-figure price tag. None of Davis’s clients could afford that, anyway.

“You really just need a dog with good basic obedience training, and public access training.”

However, Davis did point out there were instances where a dog could sense when an owner was going through a dissociative episode and could bring them out of it. In Carmen’s experience, though, the owners would obtain dogs with good temperaments and obedience training, and continue training the dogs themselves. Expense to the government was generally nil in these cases, but these patients did, by and large, believe that the dogs were helpful enough to justify spending their own money.

From the VA’s point of view, absent a solid clinical study demonstrating effectiveness, it would be extremely difficult to justify awarding service dogs as a benefit to treat PTSD – especially when the assumption is that a fully-trained service dog would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

However, there is a whole continuum of needs within the PTSD community. Only a very few veterans will require a high-end service dog for PTSD symptoms. It may make sense to recalibrate our thinking, and scale down the cost assumptions to reflect it.

For example, of the population of veterans collecting 50 percent or greater disability compensation because of PTSD, how many of them would trade 20 percentage points of disability for a service dog? After all, if the dog doesn’t make them less disabled, then you cannot justify the expenditure. But if the dog does result in a significant reduction of disability, then the cost of the dog could be offset by a reduction in VA benefits – perhaps on a sliding scale, reflecting the training cost of the dog. The veteran could select the desired training level himself, though it would affect VA disability compensation benefits.

If enough veterans jump at the chance, even where it costs them money, then we probably have a worthwhile benefit. If nobody takes the dog over the cash, then the whole push to cover service dogs for PTSD appears to be an attempt to latch on to the VA benefit gravy train.


Photo credit: Ed Andrieski/AP

Poll: Military Voters Break 2-to-1 for Romney over Obama

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Military voters break for RomneyRepublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead among uniformed servicemembers, according to a poll of active and reserve component members conducted by the editors of Military Times.

The poll found that two out of three uniformed military plan on voting for Mitt Romney. Only 26 percent are supporting the re-election of the president.

The respondents are overwhelmingly basing their vote on economics, rather than military-related concerns. Only 16 percent of them list national security concerns as the top reason for their vote either for Obama or Romney. Only 1 percent list the war in Afghanistan as their most important issue.

The President has actually gained slightly since 2008, when he received 23 percent of the vote in the same poll, running against Senator John McCain, the Republican from Arizona. And a 2004 poll by the same outfit found that 57 percent of military voters identified as Republican, compared to 13 percent as Democrats. Officers were more likely to identify with the GOP, by 66 percent to 9 percent Democrats.

The poll was not a randomized sampling, but instead a poll of subscribers to Military Times. The subscription base is 91 percent male and 80 percent white, with 35 percent of them holding ranks between O-3 and O-5.

While the poll’s oversampling of white, senior-ranking males can be expected to skew the result somewhat towards the Republican candidate, the findings broadly confirm a series of earlier surveys that found that Romney held an overwhelming advantage among veterans in many battleground states. Simply put if you are a veteran, you are markedly less likely to support Obama over Romney, whether you are still in the service or whether you have been discharged. It’s been a consistent pattern among military and veteran voters since Ronald Reagan.

Budget Cuts Hit Veterans at the End

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

Bugler playing TapsYour dad served his country and served it well. In his twilight years, he told you he wanted, nee expected, full military honors. The Great Roll Call came, and your father passed on. Upon calling, the funeral director was told that two soldiers with a flag and a tape recorder would plan show up at the funeral. Not what you expected? Neither did Roger Smith.

Robert James Smith was a Pearl Harbor veteran who passed away in Oregon on August 19th, 2012. His son, Roger, discovered firsthand what years of budget cuts have done to military Honor Guards assigned to funerals. Postponing his father’s funeral for close to two weeks to try and arrange full military honors, which he believed included a live bugler and 21-gun salute, he eventually gave up and hired a bugler himself. Two Honor Guards did show up to fold and present the flag; for one of the guards, it was her second funeral of the day.

Budget cuts have decimated Honor Guards across the country. According to the Department of Defense’s Military Funeral Honors website, “By law, military units are required to provide, at a minimum, a two-person uniformed detail to present the core elements of the Funeral Honors ceremony.” Upon further investigation, the Frequently Asked Questions page states that “The honor detail will, at a minimum, perform a ceremony that includes the folding and presentation of the American Flag to the next of kin and the playing of Taps. Taps will be played by a bugler, if available, or by electronic recording (tape, CD or Ceremonial Bugle).” And that’s about all many veterans will receive.

Electronic recording of Taps at military funerals were authorized in 2003. Honor Guards were being stretched to their limits with the combat deaths of service members in the Middle East and the natural aging of the veteran community. Add to that the limited number of service members that play the bugle at a professional level, and the already limited resources hit the breaking point. A recording plays while a soldier pretends to play the bugle. While initially few and far between, electronic recordings are becoming more and more commonplace.

Bottom line; if you are expecting the gun salute, a color guard, a live bugler, caissons, or pallbearers, prepare to be disappointed.

Evicted Soldier’s Landlord in Process of Returning Property

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Town Line Properties SGT PorrazzoLast summer, we reported on the story of SGT Mike Porrazzo, a Fort Hood soldier who was evicted by Town Line Properties while he was being hospitalized after a training accident in Washington.

The incident got quite a bit of play among the military-focused media, including at Military Authority.

This week, the Army Times provides the follow-up.

It’s mostly good news: Porrazzo’s mother has traveled to Killeen Texas, and was able to recover nearly all of Porrazzo’s property from the property management company, Town Line Properties, according to the Times.

“We could have sold everything in there, but I have never done that with any of my tenants, and I will not do that with any of my tenants,” said the property management company’s owner, Tommy Atha, himself a retired Marine.

The returned property includes a .50 caliber rifle, which Town Line had turned over to the police.

According to the Times’ reporting, Atha says his company had only learned that the soldier was being hospitalized after the eviction was completed. He also says he requested information on Porrazzo’s status from the Army, but did not get a status prior to the eviction.

There was, however, no power of attorney document in place to allow the family to pay the rent on Porrazzo’s behalf. Our reporting focused on that part of the story, and the importance of preparing a financial and legal plan to help your family through times of crisis before the crisis occurs.

We are posting this prominently to set the record straight, as our original reporting was critical of Town Line, which did not respond to our requests for an interview.

In Flanders Field

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

poppy fieldOn the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Germany signed an armistice that ended hostilities in World War I. Hostile doesn’t quite cover it; with 20th century technology and 19th century tactics, World War I was one of the most destructive wars in history. The Great War (as it was contemporarily known) included trench warfare, Spanish influenza, and over 37 million casualties.

During the Second Battle of Ypres (Belgium) in 1915, German forces used poison gas for the first time on the Western Front (use of poison gas on the Eastern Front was commonplace). After 17 straight days of fighting, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D., of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces found himself performing the funeral of a friend and former student, Lieutenant Alex Helmer. Moved beyond speaking, McCrae composed the poem “In Flanders Field” shortly after the service. The reddish Flanders poppy has since become a symbol of remembrance and respect in the former Allied countries, particularly in Great Britain and its now sovereign commonwealth realms.

President Woodrow Wilson declared the first Armistice Day on November 11th, 1919. It later became a formal (legal) federal holiday in 1938. In 1954 Congress changed the name from “Armistice” to “Veterans” Day to honor veterans of all wars, not just World War I.

To all our veterans, a hearty and heartfelt thank you.


In Flanders Field

   In Flanders fields the poppies blow

   Between the crosses, row on row,

   That mark our place; and in the sky

   The larks, still bravely singing, fly

   Scarce heard amid the guns below.


   We are the Dead. Short days ago

   We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

   Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

   In Flanders Fields.


   Take up our quarrel with the foe:

   To you from failing hands we throw

   The torch; be yours to hold it high.

   If ye break faith with us who die

   We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

   In Flanders Fields.

Surprise Family Reunion on the South Carolina Sidelines

Posted by Kelli McKinney

Faile family surpriseI’ve seen so many wonderful military homecoming video clips that it’s a miracle I have any heartstrings left. You may have seen this one, either online or in person (that stadium seats a lot of people). But it’s worth seeing again, so go get your tissue box and turn up the sound.

When Sgt. 1st Class Scott Faile left for South Korea, he had his sights set on his mission and his heart trained on his goal: Coming home.

Before he left, he told his wife Tammy that he had entered the Faile family into a military family appreciation contest through Columbia Metropolitan Airport and the University of South Carolina.

That statement – the one about entering a contest – it was a complete fabrication. As in, pants on fire. But I am pretty sure his wife and family totally forgave him.

After Scott’s deployment, unbeknownst to Tammy, he continued to work with the University of South Carolina, and he arranged a reunion the likes of which would make any reality TV producer proud. I think Ty Pennington himself couldn’t have scripted this better.

The Faile family “won” the contest, and Tammy, 15-year-old Breanna and 10-year-old Cameron received the VIP treatment at Saturday’s sold out game against Georgia. Then it was time for the award presentation, and the family took to the center of the field. As nearly 86,000 fans watched,  the Faile family received a special, pre-recorded message from Scott via the giant video screen.

Scott’s message was full of love and appreciation for his family, and if the “presentation” had stopped here, it still would have been beautiful on its own. But Scott went and upped the ante.

I would really like to be there to see the Gamecocks beat up on Georgia, he finished, Keep in mind my tour will be over soon.

As the video ended, and the fans cheered, he walked out onto the field.

It was a footrace to see which of the Failes would reach him first, but in the end, they all won. (Note to children – do not attempt to outpace your mother when racing to hug dad after a year-long absence.)

Scott had flown in the night before, slept in a hotel, and was hiding in a coach’s office until the big reveal. The effort he made to create this beautiful moment is a testament to the love and devotion he has for his wife and kids. And, on a side note, he has left every regular man in the dust in terms of surprise reunion planning.

But it’s ok. Because he’s home. And along with his lucky family, we are thankful for his service, and his sacrifice, and his safe return.

There are thousands of other families who are praying for the safe and swift return of their beloved servicemember. We wish them all godspeed, and we give them all our heartfelt thanks.