As Rocky the Red Hawk entered the gymnasium at Milton East Elementary School on Monday afternoon, dozens of elementary school students erupted in excited cheers at the sight of the big, crimson bird.
But the real excitement would come after the identity of the person inside the mascot costume was revealed.
Myles Jorgensen, a 2018 Milton High School graduate, recently returned from his post as a flight captain on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. He surprised his mom, Toni Jorgensen, a teacher’s aide at the elementary school, after nearly 300 days apart.
Myles dressed as Rocky during a perfect attendance assembly Monday and removed the bird head during a photo opportunity to show his mom he was home.
Toni fought tears as she hugged her son for the first time in almost a year.
She’d been counting the days.
“I’m just so happy that he’s here,” she said. “It’s been a long 298 days. … I’m speechless. I think it shows just how much everybody cares, and I’m just so thankful for that and thankful that he’s home for now.”
Myles serves as a flight captain, servicing the engines and checking the hydraulics on aircraft to make sure they’re fit to fly. He does daily inspections on all of the jets and ensures the planes are ready.
He was supposed to be home in October, but his return was delayed multiple times. After the family found out Myles wouldn’t be home for the holidays like they originally planned, the Jorgensens left their Christmas tree up so they could celebrate the holiday when he returned.
His mom said Monday she’s ready for the holidays with her family, even if it’s in late January.
Toni had been wondering why everything was so different from the school’s typical attendance assembly. The time was moved a couple of times. Multiple teachers kept her in her room for parts of the day during setup, and most assemblies don’t include the mascot.
Myles wanted to give his mom something she could brag about with her friends in a Navy moms group on Facebook and knew she would appreciate a special homecoming.
“She’s sappy like that,” he joked.
Living in tight quarters on a moving ship takes some adjustment, Myles said. After being gone for so long, he’s ready to sleep in his own bed and relax at home.
“It’s cool. The one word I can use to describe it is just relaxing,” he said.
Toni said her son might have to help iron clothes while he’s home for the next month, but both Myles and his mom are happy to be together.
Toni called it a “sigh of relief.”
Her son thinks so, too.
“Living like that and not really having a home for such a long time and then coming back to one where, like, you know you have one, that’s pretty awesome.”