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How an emotional reunion for Army mother, North student went down
North Reunion
Kayla McManus, left, a sophomore at North Forsyth High School, poses for a picture with her mom, Sgt. Tina Bailey, after Bailey surprised her Friday, May 10, after spending the previous nine months in Iraq. - Photo courtesy Lori Waddell

Kayla McManus didn’t want to get on stage. The North Forsyth High School sophomore is involved with the school’s theater department, but she works behind the scenes during school productions as a technician. Still, she was feeling the pressure. 

Randy Herrin, an assistant principal at the school, had gathered McManus’ seventh-period drama class in the school’s performing arts center on Friday. Herrin was going to start doing improv in Atlanta this summer, he told the class, and he wanted their help to practice. When Herrin called McManus up to the stage to participate, she initially resisted, but her teacher and classmates coaxed her up.

The two began playing out a scene of a dad admonishing his daughter for coming home after curfew.

“Where have you been?” Herrin shouted.

McManus shrugged, fumbling over her words.

“Listen, when your mother gets home, you’re going to have to explain that to her,” Herrin said.

That was Tina Bailey’s cue. The 10-year Army veteran suddenly came out from behind the curtain, still in uniform, to greet her daughter for a surprise emotional reunion after Bailey spent the past nine months deployed in Iraq.

The two instantly hugged.

“I was really nervous,” McManus said, “and then I was freaking out, then I was crying. It was really sudden.”

Bailey is a critical care flight paramedic in a medical evacuation unit, and this most recent deployment was her third out of the Alabama National Guard in Montgomery. Each deployment is about 11 months -- two months of training in the states, nine months overseas -- and being away from family is hard, Bailey said. The most they could do these last nine months was FaceTime every day despite the nine-hour difference in time zones.

“It sucks,” McManus said. “That’s all there is to it. They’re off doing this nice mission, helping people, and I’m at home.”

Each of Bailey’s previous returns from deployment had been relatively uneventful, she said, but she wanted to do something extra this time.

“Just because she’s older,” Bailey said, “and she was bugging me to death about when I was coming home. I just figured this time it would be fun.”

Susan Bailey, Tina Bailey’s mom and McManus’ grandmother, called the school just a few days in advance and connected with Herrin. She figured they could have Tina simply walk into McManus’ class for the surprise. It was going to be a long day anyways; Tina would be driving in from Montgomery that day.

Herrin had other ideas. He concocted the elaborate scenario to make the surprise more impactful.

With approval from North Forsyth principal Jeff Cheney and drama director Addison Walden, Herrin gave Tina her instructions to wait behind the curtain for the cue.

“Nobody knew anything,” Herrin said. “The kids just thought I was doing this improv thing.”

Tina was nervous as she waited behind the curtain, she said. She knew McManus preferred to stay out of the limelight.

“I was afraid she wasn’t going to go on stage,” Tina said.

Once McManus did get on stage, she was “terrified,” she said.

A few minutes later, all their nerves dissipated.

“It was awesome,” Susan said. “Everybody was crying. … It was heartwarming. It was really, really awesome.”

Tina isn’t sure when she’ll deploy next, but that was of little concern Friday afternoon. All that mattered was that after nine long months apart she was home getting to spend Mother’s Day weekend with McManus and the rest of the family.

McManus also saw an additional benefit to her mom’s surprise return.

“OK, now we can get off the stage,” McManus said.