Air Force Master Sergeant Marquese Hayden spent the past 6 months serving as an air traffic controller in Kuwait. On Feb. 1, he made a surprise visit home to Tampa to reunite with his family.

  • Hillsborough School District helped orchestrate surprise reunions
  • Sgt. Hayden visited all three schools his children attend
  • Children expected their dad home later in the month

“If this deployment has taught me one thing, it is that family time is very valuable,” he said. “The lost time I experienced, I can no longer get back.”

The Hillsborough School District helped Sgt. Hayden reunite with his three kids during an orchestrated surprise appearance at each of their schools. Hayden went directly from Tampa International Airport to Orange Grove Middle Magnet, where his daughter, Tahja Hayden, 12, is in the 7th grade.

Tahja was in the theater attending a performance by her classmates, when her dad suddenly appeared on stage. The girl’s eyes and mouth opened wide, then she ran up to the stage and hugged him with tears of joy dripping down her cheeks.

“I thought I was hallucinating,” Tahja said. “I’m really excited, because I really missed him.”

Sgt. Hayden then drove to Robinson High School where his son, Tahj Hayden, 14, is a freshman. The principal called Tahj to his office where Hayden was waiting behind a door.

The teen burst into tears as he hugged his dad.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Tahj said. “I thought that it would be later on in the month.”

Tahj said he had taken on extra responsibilities while his Dad was away.

“I just have to step up and make sure my mom’s going to be OK,” he said. “He’s fun, but he’s still strict. So, he keep us in check.”

Hayden’s wife, Tashaundra, said it has been a rough six months without her husband.

“He missed the holidays, he missed every one of the kids’ birthdays,” she said. “He missed Tahj’s first football game, Maddex’s first piano recital, then we had the hurricane. So, it was a lot.”

Tashaundra said she also knows it’s her husband’s job to be deployed overseas, and is proud of him.

“Very proud that he’s able to not only put his life on the line for us, but for everybody in the United States of America,” she said. “That’s so selfless to me. So, I tell him on the regular how proud I am of him.”

Hayden said he’s looking forward to spending time with his family.

“The one word that can sum it all up is 'united.' We’re united again,” he said. “I’m going to definitely spend more quality time with all my kids and with my wife.”

Spectrum Bay News 9 was not able to attend Hayden’s surprise visit to Tinker K-8 School, where his youngest son, Maddex, 8, attends because it’s on MacDill Air Force Base.