Megan Creaser had an idea that last Tuesday night would be a special one for her and her family. She didn't know the half of it.
Megan is the wife of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Andrew Creaser, who was deployed to Afghanistan in January, and the mother of their two young daughters, Allaina (3) and Ashlynn (1). Last week, as part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' ongoing military appreciation initiative, Megan was invited to One Buccaneer Place for a VIP tour with her two girls. As a life-long Buccaneers fan, she wasn't sure if she was more excited about the tour or the evening's other promised event, a video conference with her husband set up by the team's IT pros.
As it turned out, there was another, much better surprise waiting for the Creaser family. If you've followed the Buccaneers in recent years and know the passion General Manager Mark Dominik has for giving back to those who serve in the military, you might be able to guess what it was.
But first, the tour.
The three Creaser ladies walked the halls of One Buc, visited the team's impressive locker room and got a behind-the-scenes look at all aspects of the team's operations. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an avid Bucs fan, and even young Allaina happened upon her own obsession, a Buccaneers umbrella she found on the floor of the room set up for the video conference.
Of course, the chance to communicate with their husband and father was the most important part of the One Buc Place visit for the Creasers. Megan has had difficulty catching up with Andrew because of his work schedule, and being away from their father has been particularly hard on the girls. Their father is a dedicated U.S. soldier: He has been in the Army since June 2003, has been to Iraq for two tours and is currently on his third tour in Afghanistan.
Smiles filled the room when the image of SSG Creaser appeared on the screen in front of his family. Little Ashlynn lit up when her father's face appeared on the screen, though Allaina was still captivated by that Bucs umbrella. Eventually, Allaina was able to share her happiness over new favorite umbrella with her dad.
A few minutes into the call, Dominik stopped by to welcome the family and speak with SSG Creaser about his admiration for the hard work, dedication and sacrifice made by the whole Creaser family on a daily basis. The evening was about to wrap up as a great success when all of a sudden the video feed was lost.
The IT department was immediately called to come in and fix the problem. The feed needed to be restored so the family could say a proper goodbye, and a knock on the door let them know that help was on the way.
Or so they thought.
As Megan and her little girls looked up, the doorway was filled not with a Bucs IT professional but Staff Sergeant Andrew Creaser himself, smiling down upon his disbelieving family.
Understandably, the room's excitement level immediately kicked up a notch, screams of joy filling the room. Originally scheduled to return home on April 24, SSG Creaser was back a week early, and his family was thrilled.
"It kind of took me a second to realize that it was actually him walking through the door instead of some IT guy that was supposed to be walking in the door," said Megan. "When he walked in, the baby just kind of stood there and looked. Allaina didn't even think twice until she finally saw him, and of course, ran up to him screaming, 'Daddy!' She's definitely got daddy wrapped around her little fingers, because that is definitely a daddy's girl."
SSG Creaser said he tried to surprise his wife a couple times before, but plans hadn't come to fruition. This time, with a little help from the Buccaneers, the moment couldn't have been better.
"In this particular scenario, it was 'I hope she didn't figure it out… maintain the surprise,'" he said. "Of course I was excited, and couldn't wait to get home and go through the whole situation."
The opportunity to take part in such moments is priceless for Dominik, who comes from a military family himself and is constantly reminded of the sacrifices made by servicemen and women.
"I'll be honest, it actually makes me well up a little bit because I understand that these families are separated and apart," he said. "To be able to see this moment where [Allaina] said, 'Hi, daddy,' it makes me very proud of the organization, and really of our military; just the sacrifice.
"It just reminds everybody again that it is an amazing sacrifice everyone does for our country, for our freedom that we have every day."
Megan said it warms her heart to see how much the Buccaneer value both the military and the family members who stay behind and hold down the home front. "I grew up a Bucs fan, and I was born and raised in a military family, so to see the two collide together in a great way like this means a lot," she said.