When Mikey Ortiz arrived at Busto’s Martial Arts in Holbrook Thursday afternoon, the 9-year-old Farmingville boy thought he was just there for a private lesson, a belated birthday gift.
After stepping onto the mat of the dojo, his sensei, Matthew Federico, surprised him with a test, one that would end with him achieving a blue belt.
But a much bigger surprise was waiting in Federico’s office.
While Federico disappeared inside to retrieve Mikey’s new belt, the boy waited patiently on the mat for him to return, his breathing still heavy from the exhausting series of karate kicks, punches and aerial tricks he had just performed.
But when the office door opened, Mikey’s face lit up and he sprung to his feet, charging toward the figure stepping through the doorway. It was his dad, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Miguel Ortiz. He had finally come home.
As the two met, Ortiz dropped to his knees, and Mikey wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and cried as his dad held him tight.
“It was hard, I missed him,” Mikey said of his dad’s deployment, his third one.
Ortiz, 38, had been separated from Mikey, his 3-year-old son, Mateo, and his wife, Melissa, for nearly a year while he served his country. During that time, he spent four-and-a-half months in Afghanistan, and another four-and-a-half in Bahrain.
He said he would try to FaceTime with his family as much as they could including during Mikey’s and Mateo’s karate lessons, which they started just weeks before Ortiz deployed.
At one point during the deployment, Melissa Ortiz said Mikey told her, “I’m going to be a black belt by the time dad gets home.”
Unbeknownst to Mikey and Mateo, Miguel Ortiz flew home late Thursday morning, touching down at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, where he was reunited with his wife and received a hero’s welcome from family, friends, the Farmingville Fire Department and Boots on the Ground NY, a military support group.
The crowd of about 100 escorted the couple to their new home in Farmingville, which Miguel Ortiz saw in-person for the first time. Then, the couple proceeded to the karate studio with a small group of family and friends to stage the surprise.
Mikey said he had no clue his dad would be there. Melissa Ortiz wanted the reunion to be special, but she said she wasn’t prepared for the emotional reaction her older son would have.
“He’s been so strong the entire deployment you don’t really see it until the very end when he doesn’t have to be strong anymore,” she said. “I think we can all let go now.”
Melissa Ortiz also had a Hummer limousine waiting outside the karate studio ready to take the family to wherever they desired. Maybe McDonald’s, maybe the park, she said.
“I’ve missed so many birthdays and holidays, but what I really miss is just being home and doing simple things like going out fishing or just going out to the park,” Miguel Ortiz said.
Regardless of what they did, Mikey had already declared it “the best day of my life.”