Janesville69.2°

Army Chaplain surprises mom at fair

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 24, 2008
— Some moments cannot be captured in words.

Like the moment Mary Ann Harris put her arms around her son and said, “Oh, Tom.”


In those two words there were thousands of things unspoken.


Tom is Lt. Col. Thomas Harris Behling, an Army chaplain who recently returned from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to his home in Minneapolis.


On Wednesday, he and his family traveled to Janesville to surprise his mother, who was volunteering in a ticket booth at the Rock County 4-H Fair.


At 8 p.m. Wednesday, Mary Ann’s daughter, Linda Harris of Janesville, showed up at her ticket booth.


As Mary Ann was telling her about the grandstand entertainment—Ronnie Milsap and Randy Travis—Linda said, “We’ve bought you something better.”


And there was Tom.


Against the backdrop of carnival racket, the sounds of the fair’s STAR Contest and the idle chatter of pedestrians, Mary Ann hugged her son, crying and smiling at the same time.


What does Mary Ann plan to do, now?


“Celebrate,” she said, beaming with pride.


She has plenty to be proud of.


Behling graduated from Parker High School in 1980 with a full military scholarship. In 1984, he graduated from UW-Whitewater with an Army commission of second lieutenant.


He met his wife, Cindy Behling, in ROTC, and they have a daughter, Beth.


After graduating, he served as an armor officer on active duty before attending seminary and becoming to become a military chaplain.


Now, Behling is out in the field with the troops, working with the wounded and consoling grieving soldiers, an emotionally difficult and physically dangerous job.


Mary Ann spends a lot of time praying for him and for her grandson, Stephen Schimek, an Army officer who has been in Iraq three times. Schimek is the son of Linda Harris.


Whose idea was it to surprise Mary Ann?


“It was her idea,” Behling said cheerfully, pointing at his wife.


He doesn’t have a lot of requests for his time in Janesville, except for his mother’s fried chicken.


His sister Linda will take over Mary Ann’s hours at the ticket booth so she can spend more time with Tom.


As for Mary Ann, it looked like she would never stop smiling.


“This is better than Randy Travis or Ronnie Milsap,” she said, laughing.



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