Created: 03/15/2014 11:43 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy
COLONIE - A restaurant dining room in Colonie was the setting on Saturday night for a secretive military family reunion.
The element of surprise is essential for any military operation to succeed. On Saturday night in Colonie, a covert reunification mission played out with military precision, and that enabled Operation Cheesecake Surprise to be labeled a huge success.
The public homecoming for Air Force Senior Specialist Michael Byerwalters, Junior, came at Albany International Airport, Saturday at 14-hundred hours. His mother and grandmother, however, had been kept in the dark.
"My mom is going to kill me and my grandmother is going to kill me," said Jessica Byerwalters, Mike's sister. "They both yelled at me that they need to be at the airport when this is going on."
Instead of an airport reunion, Jessica and Michael had something else in mind, something fun, but something that had to be kept under wraps -- top secret.
"There's probably going to be a lot of tears, maybe some yelling," Michael said.
What the two siblings from Coeymans Hollow cooked up was a surprise reunion at the Cheesecake Factory in Colonie Center.
Michael and his sister, and several cousins arrived first. Then, at 17-hundred hours, their mother Celeste and grandmother, Gloria Carpenter, sat down for dinner, thinking Michael was still in Afghanistan, where he's been for the last seven months.
Dressed in full military camouflage, Michael marched up to the table and asked if there was room for one more.
His mother, in disbelief, wrapped her arms around him and wouldn't let go.
"I'm amazed," Celeste exclaimed, "I honestly didn't expect him until April first. I just love him so much. I really have been waiting for him to come home."
Then it was Carpenter's turn to hug her grandson, and even though she was delighted by Michael's homecoming, she wondered why she had to be kept in the dark.
"I didn't know to begin with," she said. "They all ganged up on me but honestly, it's such a wonderful surprised.
The tactical and strategic planning paid off; Operation Cheesecake Surprise was a success; Mission: accomplished.
"It was perfect!" Michael stated, "It was a good feeling. I felt rrelieved, finally after seven months."
Even though successful, the family reunion was far from complete. Air Force First Sergeant Michael Byerwalters, Senior, Mike's father is still in New Zealand.
His sister, Ashley, is in the Air Force, and his sister, Alisha, is in the army. Both are still serving.
Inspired by the family's sacrifice, the Cheesecake Factory manager picked up the dinner check.