It was a move wrapped in deception and intrigue for the New York Red Bulls, who surprised team captain Luis Robles this past Saturday with a visit from his brother, a major in the United States Army who was recently serving in Afghanistan.
A graduate of West Point and currently in his fourteenth year of military service, Angel Robles Jr. is coming off a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. The older brother of the Red Bulls goalkeeper and captain, he surprised his brother at Red Bull Arena following New York’s 3-0 win over FC Dallas.
Expected to arrive on Monday afternoon, Angel instead took the redeye from the Middle East to New Jersey.
The move to surprise Luis after the match involved coordination not just from Angel, but Luis’ wife Cara Robles and the Red Bulls organization. Oh, and the best and brightest of the Army.
“The idea of surprising Luis did not come into play until a few weeks ago. Although this was my third deployment, this would be the first one that I would visit him before our parents. The idea of surprising him sprung up from the creative minds of my staff when I was discussing the topic during a slow day of operations,” Angel said.
“I thought it was a fun idea and ran it by Cara who quickly approved. However, it required monumental effort to keep it a secret and she and I only kept it to ourselves and certain people within the Red Bull organization in fear friends and family members would ‘spill the beans’.”
A recent nine-month deployment in Afghanistan is now over for Angel, who served as a Battalion Operations Officer. In this role, he said, he is “responsible for planning and coordinating enabler support to maneuver units conducting combat operations across the entire country of Afghanistan.” The role saw him interact with NATO partner forces in the region, conventional forces and special forces.
Angel loves the job and praises his fellow soldiers, but he was clearly looking forward to a return stateside and to see his parents as well as his brother. The brothers had planned to go to Peter Luger’s Steakhouse on Monday night when Luis thought Angel was supposed to arrive.
For Angel, Saturday started at 3 A.M. with a flight from Kuwait City to Amsterdam. From there, he flew to Detroit and then took a connector to Newark. In all, it was 36 hours of flight time logged but it was worth it, Angel said, to surprise Luis, who was expecting his brother to arrive on Monday afternoon.
Members of the Red Bulls organization met him at the airport and whisked him away to the arena, where the game had already started. There he showered, grabbed a bottle of water (and a “much-needed Red Bull”) then went to the Viking Army supporters section in the standing-room-only area behind the goal.
After the match, which the Red Bulls won despite playing down a man since midway through the first half, Angel waited with the Viking Army. After wins, the players routinely do a lap to appreciate the fans.
This time, they stopped near the supporters section where they gathered in a circle to hear a few words from head coach Jesse Marsch. After that, Luis was pointed towards the section where his brother had moved near the front of the several dozen supporters still left to clap off their team.
After a bit of confusion, Luis locked eyes with Angel, someone he has often referred to in interviews as his hero and inspiration.
Surprise then some understandable emotion took over the goalkeeper’s face as he walked over to spend a few moments with his brother. Fans showed off a lettered sign that welcomed home the Army major.
“The whole experience was amazing yet surreal for me as I left a combat area only days ago to be quickly surrounded by so many people,” Angel said.
“He was definitely surprised to see me as he was truly expecting to pick me up from the airport on Monday afternoon. He was still in disbelief, even when I interviewed him for the [postgame show]. Cara, I would say ‘OPERATION SURPRISE LUIS’ was a mission success.”
Angel expressed his thanks to the Red Bull organization for making this surprise visit happen.
“I want to say thank you to the Red Bull organization for their support and coordination. This would not have been possible if it was not for their efforts and coordination,” he added.
“They are a professional organization and I’m proud my brother is a part of their team. I also want to thank the Viking Army for their involvement in the planning process to make this such an amazing experience. New York is Red!”