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Soldier slips secretly into his Warrenton home

Wednesday, Oct. 3 | By Alisa Booze Troetschel
Christopher Ball Jr. surprised his family in Warrenton with an early trip home from Afghanistan. Courtesy photo
It was a weekend of surprises for the Ball family of Warrenton, surprises that all centered upon Army Spc. Christopher Ball Jr. returning after a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan.

Ball Jr. was stationed in an area southwest of Kandahar and saw combat one to three times a week.

His mother, Heather Ball, said she worried about him every day. But it helped that she heard from her son frequently.

Ball Jr. has a younger brother and sister. Austin Ball is a junior at Kettle Run High School. Colleen Ball studies nursing at George Mason University,

Heather and her husband, Christopher Ball Sr., typically celebrated Austin and Colleen Ball's birthdays together with a party. This year, they planned the party for Sept. 15.

Ball Jr. received a surprise from the Army when he learned he would fly out of Afghanistan in September rather than October, as he was initially told.

One month before his departure, he hatched a plan to surprise his brother, sister and girlfriend, Jill Raines.

He arrived at Fort Bragg, N.C. one week before the party. His mother and father were clued in, and secretly took his car to him. Austin, Colleen and Ball Jr.'s grandmother were kept in the dark.

The returning soldier drove to Warrenton Sept. 14. As he drove through Fauquier County, memories flooded into his mind, like 'coon hunting and being a Civil War reenactor.

The soldier's first stop was to see his girlfriend. He was on a special mission -- to propose marriage. Ball Jr. had mixed success. He achieved his most important objective. He has a fiance now.

But he had collaborated with Raines' friend, who told him where Raines was and gave him ideas. The friend shared information in both directions.

"I wasn't surprised," said Raines. "My best friend is the worst secret keeper!"

Ball Jr. proceeded on to his parents' home.

Austin Ball was preparing for bed. He was just about to pray for his brother's safety when Ball Jr. opened his bedroom door and switched on the light.

"What are you doing, boy?" Austin Ball said his brother yelled.

Austin leaped out of bed, wordless.

"I was starting to cry," Austin wrote in an email. "But I was just in so much shock, I didn't know if I should cry or not."
Ball Jr. smiled at his little brother.

"What have you been up to?" he said.

At that moment, Austin knew all was well, and he threw his arms around his brother.

"He is my hero, my inspiration, and my best friend," Austin wrote.

The last member of the Ball family to be surprised was Ball Jr.'s grandmother.

"My son played with me for so long," said Evelyn Ball.

She arrived at her son and daughter-in-law's home the afternoon of Sept. 15.

"I had a peculiar feeling because the party was in the afternoon instead of the evening," Evelyn said.

In the past, the family held parties in the evening. And, she didn't quite buy the excuses her son and daughter-in-law had offered about their whereabouts while they drove to North Carolina to take Ball Jr. his car.

As Evelyn walked to the house, she gazed upon her grandson standing in the doorway.

"When I saw him, I was rejoicing," she said.

Ball Jr. also has some surprises awaiting him that day.

His parents invited his battle buddy, Eddie Munoz, to the party.

Munoz was shot in March and is still healing, said Ball Sr. Together, Ball Jr. and Munoz cut the yellow ribbon around their parents' tree.
And, many of Ball Jr.'s friends came to the party.

"It was overwhelming, the whole thing," said Evelyn.

Ball Jr. returned to Fort Bragg Sept. 16.
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