Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Stanley, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West
It had been 18 months since Wetumpka, Ala., native Chief Warrant Officer Kajuna Strickland last saw the lady he considers to be his biggest supporter.
“I can remember when I first decided that I wanted to join the Navy 19 years ago, I thought she was going to say no way,” said Strickland. “But, she never said that. Her words to me back then were, let’s do it. And 19 years later, she’s still my biggest fan.”
Currently stationed in Rota, Spain, assigned to Explosive Ordnance Mobile Unit 8, Strickland, along with his brother and the Navy Office of Community Outreach (NAVCO) devised a plan for him to get home to see his mother.
“Lt. Carter from NAVCO contacted my brother,” said Strickland. “Then my brother got in contact with me and said they wanted me to come home to surprise her. I didn’t think twice about it. I instantly knew it was something I wanted to do. My brother and I bounced ideas back and forth about how to do it. It’s amazing that I got to do it during Navy Week Birmingham.”
With more than 75 planned events for Navy Week Birmingham, one event in particular presented Strickland with what he considered the “perfect time” to surprise his mother, and that event was the Birmingham Barons baseball game at Regions Field April 11.
It would be a simple plan. First, Strickland would record a video of himself talking to his family back home. On the day of the game, his mother would be invited down on the field under the notion that she was being recognized. Then, Strickland’s video would play on the large stadium monitor, and once the video finished playing, he would walk out and surprise her.
Easy day, right? Not exactly.
“My mom can be really nosy,” said Strickland. “I didn’t know if she was going to figure it out or not.”
The only way for Strickland to know if his plan would work would be for him to put it into action. First, he would have to take a nine-hour flight from Spain to Birmingham, Ala.
“It was a long flight, but I’m here,” said Strickland. “I thank God for that.”
Now home, Strickland needed to be incognito until the surprise.
“I couldn’t post anything on social media,” said Strickland. “I didn’t want anyone to tip her off that I was home.”
The day was finally here and the stage set. It was time to see if son could pull the perfect surprise on mom.
Just behind home plate, Strickland’s mom stood before her attention was finally directed toward the gigantic monitor towering over left field. All of a sudden, Strickland’s face invaded the screen and his voice began to fill Region’s Field. His mother stood there watching and listening to him talk about how much he missed and loved his family, and as she did, a proud smile grew on her face, a smile that would last well after the video ended.
With her eyes still fixed on the screen, she noticed someone moving just off her left shoulder causing her to do a double take. Finally realizing it was Strickland, both of her arms shot high into the air and she screamed in pure joy.
“I honestly didn’t know what her reaction was going to be,” said Strickland. “I was just as surprised as everyone else.”
As mother and son embraced, the crowd cheered. Strickland was finally united with his biggest fan.
“Just seeing her reaction, just seeing her face, it means everything to me,” said Strickland. “It means everything to me to be back home with my family. I love Alabama. I love the people here. I love the hospitality. This is one of the best states for supporting the military.”
Since 2005, the Navy Week program has served as the Navy’s principal outreach effort in the areas of the country without a significant naval presence. More than 212 Navy Weeks have been held in 76 different U.S. cities.
For more information about Navy Week, visit http://www.outreach.navy.mil/, or follow the hashtag #navyweek.