CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Our military members spend months or years at a time away from family. A Homewood Elementary student received a special surprise at school on Tuesday as she was reunited with her father who was deployed in South Korea for the last seven months.
The school organized an assembly and kept a lid on what was really going to happen, they only said it was a program honoring American heroes.
Kids filtered into the auditorium at 9 a.m. None of them knew, including 5th grader Madeline Gammill that it was planned around her father, US Air Force Master Sergeant Aaron Gammill, coming to surprise her.
"I've been there since September of '14," Master Sergeant Gammill said. Making this his fifth time overseas.
"He's my hero because he's always making sacrifices for our country, and then for our family, but he has to go off to protect our family," said Madeline Gammill, his daughter, a 5th grader at Homewood Elementary.
He's been in town since Monday night, staying with his in-laws. "I've been so nervous since last night hoping everything goes well." He didn't get to see his wife or kids until the morning of the assembly.
Madeline explained wanting to call him in the morning, "Usually in the mornings, since the time frames are different, I usually talk to him at like 6 o'clock in the mornings 'cause he'll be just going to bed," she said. She was to read her winning essay about her American hero, her father, in front of her class at the end of the assembly. "He wouldn't answer his phone."
But Master Sgt. Gammill had his reasons, "It was hard not answering the phone, and not answering her texts. Because I knew as soon as I called her, the in-laws' dogs would have barked and she would have, it would have given it up."
It all made sense when a teacher said her father would get a copy, then suggested Madeline give it to him herself. As Master Sgt. Gammill walked into the auditorium, Madeline ran and leapt off the stage into her father's open arms. He was proud of her essay, and said nothing could replace hearing it in person.
"Her speech was… it meant so much to me. Almost speechless. And then her jumping off the stage, running to my arms, the look on her face was just, was amazing. You could never ask for anything more. Love for your kids is priceless."
Now, Maddie has big plans for her time with dad. "Today after school ends, I'm going to the barn and he's gonna watch me ride. I've been wanting him to watch me ride for such a long time but he hasn't been able to because he's overseas, so that's the first thing I want to do with him."
Master Sergeant Gammill will be here for three weeks before he returns to South Korea. After the assembly his family went to surprise their son at his school.
At 6 p.m., hear from Madeline and her father after the big surprise.