Birthdays, holidays, graduations. After nearly a year deployed overseas, U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Allen Castaneda wanted to make up for some of those important family moments he missed while serving, especially for his younger sisters, Priscila and Leslie.
Castaneda left for a mission in Kuwait, Qatar and Afghanistan in February 2021. Prior to that deployment, Castaneda spent several months in Massachusetts and Connecticut helping with the COVID-19 response.
“I went to seven months of training, and I missed Leslie’s graduation,” said Castaneda, a combat medic specialist and graduate of Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska. “Then, this deployment came up, and I missed Priscila’s graduation. These two have been at all my soccer games. They’ve been to all of my graduations, from the Army, college and high school. I just passed three and a half years (enlisted), and I’ve been on active duty orders for 22 months. I’m missing a bunch, so the least I could do is surprise them.”
Castaneda contacted the Military and Veteran Success Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, where staff helped arrange for Castaneda to make the classroom visits for each of his younger sisters — both college students at Nebraska U.
On Jan. 27 at Jorgensen Hall, Priscila Castaneda, a first-year broadcasting major, was packing up her belongings when her brother walked through the door. A flash of recognition quickly turned into audible emotion, as Priscila bounded out of her seat and into the aisle to hug the brother she hadn’t seen in almost a year.
“I’m in shock right now,” Priscila said. “I haven’t seen him in so long. I’m so happy, and I’m so glad he’s safe.”
The two joined their parents for lunch and waited for Leslie Castaneda’s afternoon class to surprise her.
Around 1:30 p.m. in Nebraska Hall, Leslie, a junior criminal justice major, walked out of class, making her way to her next one, when someone in a uniform grabbed her jacket and got her attention.
“I didn’t think I’d cry for my brother, but I missed him,” Leslie said. “We’re both criminal justice majors. I picked this career because of him, so it’s kind of perfect that he did this in this building.”
Now, the family plans to spend the weekend catching up back home in Lexington, Nebraska, where Leslie said she’ll be happy to have her brother back at the dinner table.
“He’s pretty great,” Leslie said. “He’s kind of the life of the party, so with him being gone it just wasn’t the same — eating just the four of us.”