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Virginia Beach Navy sailor comes home, surprising mom she hasn't seen in years

Althea Fuentes has been stationed in Washington State. Three years after leaving home for basic training, she returned to see her mother.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — On Wednesday, a Navy sailor from Virginia Beach came home and surprised her mom: a reunion three years in the making.

Navy sailor third class petty officer Althea Fuentes has been stationed in Washington State.

Three years after leaving home for basic training, she returned to see her mother, Karen Anne Etulle. 

The reunion was filled with tears of happiness. 

"I couldn't afford to fly where she is, and sometimes I have to make choices - like paying the bills, pay the rent or fly to her," said Etulle. 

Fuentes said she enlisted in the Navy to serve her country, go to school and help support her family.

"They’re so grown, everyone is taller than me," Fuentes said. "Everyone is doing great, life is great." 

Etulle and her four children have been through a lot. She's a domestic violence survivor, and has focused on providing a better life for her children since escaping her abuser. 

“I am so proud. They kept me strong and I would probably have given up if not for my children," Etulle explained. "I probably not have survived if not for them. They were the ones to encourage me to be strong."

Some of Fuentes's siblings are also thinking about joining the military. 

Fuentes plans to go back to her duty station at the end of this month.

It's been a good few weeks for Etulle. In addition to seeing her daughter, in May, Etulle became a recipient of the NSF Cybercorps Scholarship For Service Cyber Leader Scholarship.

It's a partnership scholarship with Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University. The scholarship will pay for her tuition, and allows her to work for the government after she finishes her cybersecurity degree.