Large crowd gathers for soldier's return
Staff Sgt. Aaron Stamm, who had just returned from Iraq, surprised his children March 16, 2011, during an all-school assembly at Walworth Grade School.
WALWORTH Kenton Stamm could barely hide his excitement awaiting his father's return Wednesday following a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
The 6-year-old fidgeted and bounced in his chair next to his 4-year-old sister Kayla, waving a "daddy doll" to the crowd of Walworth Elementary students gathered for what was expected to be a surprise homecoming for Staff Sgt. Aaron Stamm.
"I wish my dad was here foreveeeer!" Kenton yelled, answering a teacher's question of what he wished for most.
Dad was home, but they didn't know it, yet.
"They're so clueless to what's going on right now," said their mother, Keni Stamm, watching her children from the stage of the school's auditorium.
Kenton and Kayla were expecting their father to return home later Wednesday, not knowing he had arrived Tuesday night.
Students at Walworth Elementary were in on the loosely kept secret, waving American flags and signs that read "Welcome home."
The students were asked to close their eyes as Aaron walked to the stage. Kenton peeked, jumped from his chair and flung himself into his father's arms.
"I didn't think they knew I was going to come in here," Aaron said. "It was definitely a different experience."
This was Aaron's third deployment, the latest as part of the 14th Transportation Battalion based in Italy.
Keni said all deployments present challenges for the family, but this one was easier. Aaron managed to keep in touch on a regular basis, even participating in a program that allowed him to send recordings of him reading books to his children.
"This past deployment, we were probably able to see him more than any other time," Keni said. "He was with a battalion this time versus just a standard unit. There's definitely a lot of benefits."
His two children were counting down to the day he would return, he said. The school's homecoming turned into a large ceremony, with each class presenting gifts to Stamm that included signs, poems and American flags made from construction paper.
A student whose mother also is serving in Iraq read a letter thanking him for his service. He received a certificate of honor from the American Legion for his continued service.
That was followed by a performance of the national anthem from the seventh- and eighth-grade band.
"It was overwhelming," Aaron said. "I wasn't expecting all this. I just don't know how to put it into words."
Aaron's return is an abbreviated one. He said he's scheduled to head back to Italy on April 12.