Soldier Home to Surprise His Sister Gets Surprised

ELLENTON ­-- Just like a Russian nesting doll, the Livingston household had surprises within surprises this weekend.

Taylor Livingston came home Friday on leave from the U.S. Army to surprise his sister at her graduation on Saturday, but ended up being surprised himself when he rode up to his parents' home.

A crew of Florida Power and Light employees spent all day Friday stringing thousands of Christmas lights around the landscape, as well as attaching them to the house on North Orchid Drive, creating a sparking holiday wonderland.

"The house is absolutly amazing," Livingston said. "I was so surprised."

Livingston, 21, has been stationed in El Paso since March after returning from a year in Afghanistan, and is scheduled to head back to the war zone early next year.

FPL has been doing this holiday lighting project for service members or veterans for four years throughout its Florida service area, said Rae Dowling, the area manager for public communications, but this is the first time someone from Manatee County was chosen.

"We wanted to find a way to thank those who have done so much for us," Dowling said Friday as the 15 FPL "elves" were busy decorating and testing the electrical connections.

"Taylor's parents have just opened their hearts and home to let us do this for them," she said.

Because all of the lights and decorations are energy-efficient LEDs the Livingstons will be able to keep them on longer at a very low cost, Dowling said.

Sandy Livingston, Taylor's mother, said she was so happy to have him home for the holidays. He has to report back to base in early January.

"It's a big worry every day he's away," Sandy Livington said. "Especially when he's overseas."

David Livingston, Taylor's father, said it was going to be a special Christmas this year.

"Last year we didn't have Christmas with him because he was in Afghanistan," he said.

This year not only did they enjoy surprising Taylor with the brightly decorated house, but the surprise Taylor has planned for his sister, Cassie Ladika, will just make it that much better.

The Black Hawk helicopter mechanic coordinator planned to be sitting in his dress uniform behind robed professors and dignitaries on the stage at the University of South Florida Sun Dome at 9 a.m. Saturday as his sister crosses to receive her diploma.

Taylor will then stand up and approach Cassie, giving her one of the biggest surprises of her life.

"It's going to be waterworks," said Jess Ladika, Taylor and Cassie's older brother, "She's going to be so excited just to be graduating and sad thinking that her brother will not be there."

David Livingston said he was so grateful that FPL picked Taylor for the holiday lights project.

"It was just so awesome to see that caravan of cars and FPL trucks coming down the street," he said. "And to see so many lights."

Dowling said they got Taylor's name from Linda Craig, of the Manasota Operation Troop Support organization,

"Taylor was one of the troops that we've been sending packages to," Craig said. "I think this will be really fun."

Kim Sprague, the area manager of distribution for FPL, said she was happy to volunteer to decorate the Livingston home.

"What a great honor for us to honor someone who served our country," Sprague said.

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