By U.S. Army Capt. Jonathan Garvey
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division

ASSISTANCE PLATFORM RUSHMORE, Afghanistan - It is a rare occurrence for deployed soldiers to see family members during an overseas deployment, so when an Army mother saw the opportunity to give her son the surprise of a lifetime, she seized it.

Sgt. 1st Class Mirna Velez, the Detachment Sergeant of the 240th Forward Surgical Team, 44th Medical Brigade, 28th Combat Support Hospital based out of Bagram Air Field, and her son Spc. Juan Flores, a Chemical Specialist assigned to 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, were able to spend a very memorable New Year's Day together.

Since both are concurrently deployed to Afghanistan on separate bases, the pair kept in touch through regular telephone calls and emails. In late Dec., however, Velez's unit received a mission re-locating them to AP Rushmore in order to provide supplemental medical care to the base's medical facility.

Never losing her focus on her unit's mission, Velez was understandably thrilled to know her son was stationed there and that she would have the opportunity to see him. She wanted to surprise her son so she knew she had to be extra careful when talking with him on the phone to prevent giving away her secret.

"As the team's Detachment Sergeant, I couldn't let it get in the way of our preparation, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking 'this is awesome!'"

Velez and her team arrived at AP Rushmore on New Year's Eve.

"It took some research to find out where he was, and they told me he was on guard duty," she said. "They introduced me to the Sergeant of the Guard, who took me to his tower at the end of his shift."

At the base of the tower, as her son was conducting a thorough shift change brief with his replacement. Velez stood off to the side in the shadows, in anticipation.

"I didn't even glance over," said Flores, Velez's second oldest, as he recounted the moment, "I was focused on giving a proper hand-over, explaining what I saw on guard. I didn't expect to see her; I didn't even know she was coming."

Reunited, the pair was afforded the opportunity to eat dinner, and spend a couple of hours of quality time together each day. Additionally, her mission to AP Rushmore coincided with his birthday, Jan. 5, which made their time together extra special.

"I made him eat birthday cake after dinner," said Velez. "We didn't have any candles, but that was okay. Spending the time together is what matters the most."

Coming from a very close-knit family, Velez and Flores were able to call family and friends together from Afghanistan. Their family, who remain back at home in North Carolina, was ecstatic that the pair could be in such close proximity. To make things easier over the course of their time apart, Velez keeps everything in perspective.

"It's not always easy for a mother to deploy away from her family, but it's a huge treat that I can spend time with one of my kids at the same time."