Second-grader Nikole Carvajal of Meadow Elementary School thought her class was going to meet an author. Instead, she was surprised by a visit from her mom, Army Sgt. Lilibeth Contreras, who returned home after being stationed in South Korea for 14 months. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

When Nikole Carvajal stepped outside Meadow Elementary School in Baldwin on Thursday, she was expecting a book reading.

What Nikole didn’t expect on her second to last day of second grade was her mother, Army Sgt. Lilibeth Contreras, walking out to greet her. Contreras, who had not seen Nikole in more than a year, was cheered on by Nikole's classmates when she came out.

“I didn’t think she was going to come so I didn’t look,” Nikole said holding her mother, “but I’m very surprised and I missed her very much.”

Contreras, who is part of the 557th Military Police Unit, was stationed in South Korea for at least 12 months, and before that in Fort Drum for two years. The only interactions Contreras said she had with Nikole, who lives with her father, were through video calls.

“The hardest part is being without her,” Contreras said in her military uniform while holding her daughter. “She’s my world and the reason that I serve and the reason that I push every day to become better, a better person, a better soldier.”

Their time together will be packed as Contreras has plans for her daughter before she starts school. By the time Nikole goes to school, Contreras, who is originally from Venezuela, will be stationed in Germany.

“We have a lot of plans this summer, going to Disney, going on a cruise, spending as much time as possible, and enjoying everything that we can before I go to my next unit,” Contreras said.

While it’s not known what Nikole’s future career will be, Contreras wants to instill in her daughter that opportunities are available.

“I want her to be strong when she grows up,” Contreras said. “I want her to know that she’s capable of achieving anything that she wants and anything she puts her mind to.”

With Howard Schnapp

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