NORWICH – If you could ignore the high temperatures last week standing in the Gibson Elementary School Cafeteria, you would have thought Christmas was just around the corner, and it was for one Norwich family.
On Thursday, members of Gibson’s faculty and staff brought Christmas to the school in honor of one family who had been holding off on their holiday celebrations. Payroll clerk Tom Rice returned from a 15-month tour in Afghanistan on April 24, and members of the school community did all they could to recreate the Christmas atmosphere for Tom, his wife, Elyse, who is a teacher at the school, and their family.
Tom had been a member of the Navy Reserves for 29 years. He was already retired when he was called and told he would be deploying to Afghanistan. “It was a surprise. I was retired. It was completely out of the blue,” said Tom. The Gibson payroll clerk left for Afghanistan on Feb. 13, 2006, and had to spend 15 months away from Elyse and the couple’s daughters, Molly and Bridget. Despite his 29 years of service, Tom and Elyse said the deployment was the first time they had spent a significant amount of time apart.