Life Video

By Jack Williams

This is the beautiful moment a soldier shocked his nine-year-old son after being away on deployment for 10 months – by sneaking into the youngster’s taekwondo session to become his surprise sparring partner.

Blindfolded Luca Cesternino had no idea what was about to come next as he swung punches at the mystery body in front of him, thinking it was all part of a training routine.


Little did Luca know, though, his trainer at Success Martial Arts Centre in Lebanon, Tennessee, had switched places with his father, Staff Sgt. Rob Cesternino.

Toward the end of the drill on Monday [March 18] Rob then uttered ‘Hey Shib’ – a name he used to call Luca when he was younger – with the words instantly sparking a “Daddy?” from his son.

Stopping in his tracks, Luca then removed the blindfold before immediately diving into his father’s arms and breaking down into tears.


All around the martial arts centre, applause rang out as the pair embraced, with Rob telling Luca, “I love you, and I’m so proud of you. You were such a big boy while I was gone”.

The pair were also joined by the staff sergeant’s wife, Leah, who helped organise the surprise and was praised by Rob for her resolve and care of Luca while he was away.

Speaking to his local newspaper, the Lebanon Democrat, Luca said: ““I was, like, wow!

“Everybody came here to see my dad and me.

“It’s just excitement.

“I felt joy in my heart – I will never leave his side.”


Rob returned from deployment on Sunday but had to then spent 24 hours in seclusion.

The staff sergeant left with the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 230th Sustainment Brigade on May 20, 2018.

From there, the unit headed to Kuwait, with Rob also spending time in Jordan and southern Syria.

As well as the surprise reunion with his son, Rob was also treated to a special homecoming by the local community.

With the help of Leah, a project saw locals decorate Lebanon Square and other areas of the city with yellow ribbons to welcome Rob back and celebrate all veterans.

Rob added: “The person we both have to thank is Luca’s mom and my wife, Leah.

“It starts and ends with her – she makes us better.

“If you are a husband or a wife of a service member, if you are a child of a service member, they deserve more applause than we get, because they have a tougher row to hoe.”