7-Year-Old Melts in Navy Brother's Arms When He Surprises Her at School


Military reunions always pull at my heartstrings, knowing how much each family has sacrificed to serve and protect our freedom.

It’s hard to imagine what that’s really like unless you’ve gone through it yourself — having a family member serving and not knowing when you may see them next. Many are gone for months and years at a time.

I’ve always been extremely close with my siblings. My sister moved out when she was just 14. I remember how much that crushed me, losing her friendship and motherly advice as a young impressionable pre-teen at that time.

Little Emilie Buckner, now 7 years old, has had the same longing for her big brother that she hadn’t seen for almost nine months.

Buckner Family Photo
Buckner Family Photo: (From left to right) Mike Buckner, Olivia Buckner, Austin Zeigler, Emilie Buckner, Shannon Buckner (Credit: Mary Sandy, Photos by Mary)
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Cryptological Technician (CTRSN) Austin Zeigler enlisted in the United States Navy just 12 days after his 20th birthday. Since then, he’s graduated from boot camp and been attending school with the Navy. His family anticipates he will be deployed by the end of the year.

Back in February, parents Shannon and Mike Buckner brought home a “Navy sister” shirt after their son’s boot camp graduation, and Emilie has worn the shirt to bed every single night since it came into her possession.

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Knowing how much Emilie has been missing her big brother, her parents knew they wanted to surprise her when Austin had an upcoming two-week leave.

“We try our best to keep our youngest in contact with her brother, but being the only one without a phone or social media, it’s a bit different for her,” Shannon told Liftable, a brand of the Western Journal. “The rest of us can text him at any hour or send him a Snap or Instagram post.”

U.S. Sailor CTRSN Zeigler in Dress Blues
U.S. Sailor, CTRSN Austin Zeigler, in Dress Blues (Credit: Shannon Buckner)

That’s when Shannon and Mike started planning a very special surprise. Shannon reached out to the principal of Emilie’s school in Anthem, Arizona, as well as, her second-grade teacher. Naturally, they were both on board to help with the surprise.

Of course, with flights, there are always nerves if there will be delays. Shannon knew it would be close, but the Lord was looking out for them that day. “I was ecstatic to see Austin’s flight was arriving early,” she told Liftable, “so I was able to keep in contact with the school regarding our arrival.”

When they arrived, Emilie’s class was outside measuring temperatures. She first noticed her mother, not recognizing her big brother. Once she did — priceless! Even more heartwarming, the surprise occurred on Sept. 11.

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“Emilie turned around, saw her brother but didn’t recognize him,” Shannon told Liftable. “She saw me and ran to me, at first, but when her brother said, ‘wrong person,’ she immediately recognized his voice and melted in his arms.”

Although it’s been a hard transition for the entire family not having their son home, Shannon knows the surprise meant a lot to her young daughter. She “misses her brother with all her heart,” and since he’s been home, she “hasn’t left his side.”

Emilee and Austin holding hands
Buckner Family: Emilee & U.S. Sailor Austin Zeigler holding hands. (Credit: Shannon Buckner)

“We are so proud of our son,” Shannon said. “As a mom, I would tease him saying he could never leave me, but I think he has made a very brave choice; one that only 1 percent of American’s make. As a family, we are proud to stand for the American flag and honor those currently serving and the veterans who served before them!”

We agree. Thank you for your service, CTRSN Zeigler, and Buckner family for sharing your heartwarming story.

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Keeley is a former contributor to The Western Journal.
Keeley is a former contributor to The Western Journal.