A Christmas wish comes true

Shayne Brooks, Garrett and Deborah Legan

SUN PHOTO BY TOM CHANG U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Shayne Brooks, left, his brother, Garrett Legan, 11, and their mother, Deborah Legan, share a hug after Shayne surprised Garrett at L. A. Ainger Middle School Tuesday after being away for four years.

ENGLEWOOD — All that sixth-grader Garrett Legan wanted for Christmas was to see his big brother, Air Force Senior Airman Shayne Brooks, again.

On Tuesday at L.A. Ainger Middle School, he got his wish. The last time the 11-year-old saw his brother was four years ago.

“I found out about this around last Thursday,” said Joan Mangone, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Ainger. “We told the kids that I was getting an award.”

Shayne and Garrett’s mother, Deborah Legan, organized efforts to set up the reunion with the school.

Prior to the reunion, Ainger was on a minimal lockdown following the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn., on Friday. The visit brought some serenity back to the front office staff.

Deborah snuck Shayne in the night before without Garrett noticing.

“It feels special,” Deborah said. “We need to get Garrett through finals and we’re going to be spending a lot of time together.”

Deborah found out a month ago that Brooks was saving up money for the trip home.

“He bought his ticket about two weeks ago,” she said. “We called the school to ask permission for Shayne to come in during Ms. Mangone’s class. Before I knew it, the attention grew to the point where I got a call from Ms. (Marcia) Louden, the principal, for pictures of the boys and TV media started calling me. Everyone was looking for a feel-good story.”

Brooks, who was stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany before taking leave, is an Ainger and Lemon Bay High School alumnus. He attended Ainger from 2001 to 2003.

Brooks said he wasn’t sure he would be able to come home for the holidays, but he optimistically put in a leave request anyway.

“Sometimes it’s harder to get out if you’re lower ranking,” Brooks said. “They said, ‘Sure, nobody is going anywhere.’ So it was accepted when it was put in.”    The brothers love to play sports, Deborah said. Brooks tore his ACL playing soccer and will have surgery when he gets back to Germany on Jan. 8.

“He loves the normalcy of being home and having family dinners,” Deborah said. “He loves having his relatives over. I feel blessed I get to have my boys over for Christmas while others might not.”

Brooks left to serve in the Air Force when Garrett was 8 years old. Garrett really admires what his brother has done for his country, the family said.

Brooks said that when he arrived at the airport in the U.S., it was as much culture shock to come back home as when he was deployed.

“To see familiar faces and see your family again, it regrounds you,” Brooks said. He and his brother have “very similar interests. I’m learning more about his artistic side since he’s been into it when I left. He draws and stuff like that.”

Brooks is focusing on what Garrett wants to do in his leave.

“If he brings it up, we’ll do it,” Brooks said. “Last time I was home, we went fishing. I brought some handmade German stuff (this time) and some cultural stuff. He’s very interested in the military lifestyle.”

Nothing has been discussed about Garrett’s future in regard to serving. Brooks said he didn’t make his decision until he was 19.

“The thing I missed most about leaving was my family,” Brooks said. “It’s much better being here than talking to them over Skype.”

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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