Students sat in the darkened gym at Pinecrest Elementary School on Tuesday when three men walked in shrouded in dark blue camouflage. One of the second-grade students, Ali Templeton, leapt from the floor and rushed them.
She left her feet and flew into the waiting arms of the first camouflaged figure, her father, who has been deployed aboard the USS John C. Stennis for the last seven months.
The Stennis has been deployed to the Middle East since August. It is at this moment making the last leg of the journey toward its home port in Bremerton and is scheduled to return in early May.
Family and friends all around Kitsap County are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their loved ones, but for a few families in the Central Kitsap School District the celebration has already begun — three Stennis sailors returned home ahead of the ship on Tuesday and surprised their children at school.
Students at Pinecrest Elementary School gathered in the gym to hear a reading of the book “Double Trouble in Walla Walla.” All the while, the Stennis Sailors and their spouses stood right underneath the childrens’ noses, separated only by a thin partition.
At the end of the book, the reader moved toward the doorway and told students to listen for a special guest. Moments later the school mascot came in, followed closely by Sailors Jason Turner, David Templeton and Sean Shenefelt.
Templeton’s 8-year-old daughter, Ali, was the first to see her father cross the threshold. She crossed the room in a matter of seconds and launched herself into her father’s arms.
Within moments, realization began to strike for her brother and sister: Knickolas, 5, and Madeline, 12. Turner’s children Amanda, 10, and Cooper, 6, jumped their own father while Shenefelt’s two sons Vinny, 7, and Owen, 5, clung to him.
Templeton’s wife, Amanda, said their daughter Madeline noticed her sister sprinting for the door before she noticed her father standing there. Their older daughter had a look like, “What’s Ali doing?” Amanda said.
“(She) saw her bee-lining for the door,” Amanda said.
Before the sailors made their entrance, Shenefelt’s wife, Melissa, told about the last time her husband returned home from deployment. That time, too, they surprised their sons, though not in a school assembly.
Melissa said that it took their older son, Vinny, a moment to realize his father was back. As soon as he recovered his composure, though, he asked, “Can we go home and play Xbox, dad? Mom doesn’t play Xbox.”
Amanda said before her husband returned she asked their kids what they would do when he got home. Apparently, one told her, “I’m going to hug him and give him a big fart.”
There was certainly no lack of hugging on Tuesday; however, it looked like the gift of gas may have been forgotten in the heat of the moment.
Templeton has deployed three times since 2009, meaning he’s essentially been gone more than he has been home in the last few years.
“I’m so relieved he’s home,” Amanda said. “I’m done.”