Airman returns home to relieve fill-in father figure of duty

BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- We are moments away from elation. Five-year-old Brian Kelly has been waiting nearly six months for his dad, Air Force Cpt. Dan Kelly, to get back from an overseas deployment. 

But before I show you that happy ending, we need to go back to the sad beginning.

"He said, 'I have to go now. I'll see you soon.' And Brian just started weeping," said Barbara, his mom.

She says what upset her son most was that he wouldn't be able to do yard work anymore -- his favorite father/son activity.  

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Brian Kelly, 5, and his dad, Air Force Captain Dan Kelly, doing yardwork before Kelly's deployment.

Kelly family

As we first reported a few months ago, Dan's deployment left his junior airman aimlessly leaf-blowin' in the wind, counting the days until his dad's return.

Neighbor Dean Cravens used to watch them. He knew the boy missed his dad, but he didn't know how much until he got a knock at the door.

"Nobody ever comes to our front door, so I was like, OK, who could that be?" Dean said. "And you could see him through the window, it's Brian. And I just looked at him and I could tell he wanted to do yard work and I said, 'Sure, meet me around the garage. We'll get some tools out and go.'"

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Brian Kelly stops by to ask if Dean Cravens can do yardwork with him.

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And there was a door knock virtually every day thereafter.

"He kind of took it upon himself to adopt me to do the yard work," Dean said. 

Which is why all summer, you could find this father figure and son puttering around their yards in Belleville, Illinois, baggin' the clippings and blowin' their cares away.

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Brian Kelly and Dean Cravens working on Cravens' yard.

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By the way, Dean does have a day job -- he works in IT. And he does have his own family, but he always made time for Brian.

"Every single day," Barbara said. She said Dean has "never" sent Brian out and said, "Not today."

"We've been out there for hours at a time," Dean said. 

There are "probably" other things Dean could be doing, but he said, "I just like to see the smile on his face and see him happy doing it." 

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Brian Kelly and Dean Cravens.

CBS News

We always talk about supporting the troops. For most of us, it's a commitment that begins and ends at our bumper sticker. But Dean Cravens showed us what it really means to serve those who serve.

In this case, making a long wait go by just a little bit faster, for son and father.

"It makes you feel good that there's somebody else out there that's looking out for your child, sort of a male role model for him," Dan said upon his return. 

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Brian and Dan reunite

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Today Cpt. Kelly has his wingman back. But Dean says he will be there if duty calls again, knowing that sometimes it really does take a village -- of landscapers. 

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.