CLINTON -- When Michelle Lundberg saw her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Jared Lundberg, at the airport Thursday afternoon, she was awash with tears of joy. He had just returned from a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army.
But Michelle said that moment of sheer happiness was surpassed when she witnessed her daughters' reactions as their dad surprised them at school.
There was much anticipation as staff and students at Voyage Academy in Clinton watched the doors to see who their surprise guest was. Strains from country singer Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" filled the room.
As soon as fourth-grader Ashtyn saw her dad in uniform, her face crumpled in tears. She ran up to him, completely melting herself deep into his hug.
His first-grade daughter, Attley, sat in shock, staring at her dad, until her teacher nudged her forward.
"I thought he wouldn't be home until later today," Attley said.
There weren't many dry eyes in the room as staff and students watched the emotional reunion.
"I saw a lot of the other kids tear up, and it touched me deeply," Jared Lundberg said. "This is probably the sweetest thing I've seen in my life."
Ashtyn said she was shaking when she saw her dad walk in, and she couldn't stop the tears as they cascaded down her cheeks. "I haven't seen him in so long," she said.
Her friends kept stopping her in the hallway afterward, many of them crying.
"Ashtyn has been telling me all about her dad coming home, because it seems like he's been gone forever. So when I saw him here for her, I had happy tears," said fourth-grader Keilee Gifford.
When word reached the school that the girls' dad was flying in, the staff jumped into action, having only an hour's advance notice. They borrowed dozens of flags from a local Boy Scout troop and lined the school entranceway with rows of youngsters standing at attention with the flags.
The school entryway was also lined with a city patrol car, fire truck and ambulance, all with lights flashing. The officials were lined up inside the school.
A very shocked Jared asked his wife, "What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything. This is all the school's idea," Michelle told him. "We just wanted to surprise the girls. We didn't realize it would be all this."
"This was really surprising," Jared said, "but I'm flattered and overwhelmed, and it is nice to see the community support our troops."
The event was something the school's staff saw as an opportunity for their students.
"We thought it was important enough to celebrate this father's coming home and wanted to show our students what it's like to have pride in our flag and our country and learn from this experience," said Kami Coleman, director of student services. "We have been blessed to be a part of this."