HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- Army First Lieutenant Kaitlyn Bertsch has been deployed in a joint special operations task force as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, Philippines for seven months. During that time Kaitlyn's mother Kathi has been caring for 3-year-old Owynne Bertsch. First Lieutenant Bertsch was originally scheduled to be home for Thanksgiving before her deployment was extended.
As fate would have it, the young mother would be able to make it home for Christmas Eve. Grandma -- or, Alma, as she is called -- wanted to do something particularly special for the homecoming. So she employed the help of a friend, Brian Potter, to don double-sided tape and a synthetic beard and wig. The plan was to have this makeshift Santa Claus deliver Owynne's mommy; and also maybe ease the toddler's mild phobia of the portly guy in head-to-toe velour.
"How could I say no to a service member homecoming?" said Potter. "And she asked me over Mexican dinner with a margarita in my hand so what was I going to do."
Lieutenant Bertsch arrived at Huntsville International Airport around 10:20 a.m. Friday greeted by her mother and a stranger dressed in iconic garb.
"I'm kinda overwhelmed and really excited to see my daughter," smiled Bertsch.
"Every time I've come home from training she freaks out a little bit," says Mom of her 3-year-old. "She doesn't quite know what to do so I'm hoping now that she's older she might be a little bit more excited to see me, especially since Santa is bringing me home."
"This is amazing, I can't believe she made it Christmas Eve," beamed grandma as she followed behind with camera in hand. Just over the concourse balcony near the escalator, Lieutenant Bertsch looks down to see her daughter holding a sign that reads 'I Love Mommy'. That's when the water works began.
Owynne welcomed Mom with a big hug and several kisses but wasn't too thrilled to see Santa. The youngster quietly thanked the jolly old elf-for-hire as she shrunk into mom's arms. It may be next year before Owynne Bertsch truly warms up to Santa, but this Christmas Eve brought smiles all around for the Bertsch family with everyone in agreement -- little Owynne got the best gift of all -- her military mommy.