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Lt. Colonel Returns Early From Afghanistan, Surprises Family At FedExField

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It was just supposed to be a message on the video board.

Lt. Col Richard A. Grab surprised his family by returning home early from deployment in Afghanistan at the Redskins-Rams game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015 at FedExField.

At least, that's what Michelle Grab and her daughter, Samantha, had prepared for as they walked into FedExField and stood in the south end zone while the Redskins and Rams paused between the first and second quarters.

Fans quickly hushed to hear what Lt. Col. Richard A. Grab of the United States Air Force, stationed in Afghanistan for the past six months, had recorded to say to his wife, daughter and son, Nicholas, who was watching it all from the stands. Just as soon, the fans were erupting again.

It took a couple seconds for Elizabeth to realize why until she turned to her left. Richard, dressed in his camouflage uniform, not due back home until a couple weeks from now, was springing towards them, arms spread wide, hands clenched with flowers, rushing to wipe the joyous tears from his wife's face.

With a deafening, sustained outburst of fan support, the three hugged again and again for several seconds, which seemed like several minutes. Posing for photos and then racing back to the tunnel, the trio ran past Redskins fans, who couldn't help but start chants of "USA! USA!"

"I was floating," Richard said. "I was at least three feet off the ground and the whole way out I was just… this has been building with anticipation since the beginning of the week."

Richard knew he wanted to surprise his family, he just wasn't sure how. He reached out to Redskins Salute and asked if they could facilitate something. He was able to get them to the stadium and filmed a message that week to keep the secret safe, to make sure they didn't suspect his presence.

"We've had this in the plans and I've been trying to keep it a secret," Richard said. "My wife is very difficult to keep secrets on, so she was really on me. But man, when it all came together it couldn't have come any better today. That was a picture perfect moment, and to have the support of the crowd like that sends chills almost through your entire body."

"I'm very grateful and just overwhelmed," Michelle said, holding back more tears. "I'm so happy."

Having this moment happen during a Redskins game only made it all sweeter. Richard has been a fan since he was a boy, remembering Dave Butz coming to his school, and has continued to follow the team abroad.

He and his family, which also consists of their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, unable to come to FedExField, live in Burke, Va., and Richard will continue his work at the Pentagon in the Air Force budget department.

"I'll never forget this moment," Michelle said.

Her husband didn't need a plane for Sunday afternoon's mission. He had already lifted his family above the clouds.

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