Welcome home, Dad

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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Welcome Home

WELCOME HOME – Major Joel Thompson surprised his daughters, Haley and Henley, at Carson Elementary in Decatur Friday after being gone 11 months. Also pictured is his wife, Erin Thompson, who said it was hard to keep the secret from their daughters. Messenger photo by Kristen Tribe

Sisters Haley and Henley Thompson stood with fellow Carson Elementary students in an assembly Friday, listing the things for which they’re most thankful.

After each student gave their answer, Principal Craig Weston announced they had a visitor who was especially thankful to be at the school that morning. The blue curtains behind the students parted, revealing a man in U.S. Army fatigues.

“It’s a soldier!” shouted children in the crowd.

RETURN HOME – Henley Thompson tears up as her dad, Major Joel Thompson, gives her a hug. Joel surprised Henley and his older daughter Haley Friday morning at Carson Elementary in Decatur. The girls had not seen their dad, who had been stationed away from home, in almost a year. Messenger photo by Kristen Tribe

It took just a few seconds for Haley and Henley to realize that soldier was their father, Major Joel Thompson. Thompson has been stationed away from his family for 11 months, nine of those overseas. He arrived in Decatur yesterday, but stayed at a neighbor’s house last night to surprise the girls today at school.

“Spending one last night [away] to surprise my little girls was totally worth it,” he said. Joel said he didn’t sleep much, though because he was a little nervous.

“This one’s really sensitive, and I didn’t want to embarrass her,” Joel said, referencing Haley, a third grader. Henley is in kindergarten.

“I was just more concerned for them and just happy,” he said.

Haley said she didn’t immediately know it was her dad.

“I thought that wasn’t him because I haven’t seen him for a long time, and I thought he was somebody else,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “I was sad … and happy.”

While he was overseas, Joel went to five countries,but spent most of the time in Jordan, providing construction management and planning and design for the Army Corps of Engineers.

“I also went to Egypt, Lebanon and Kuwait, but most of my time was in Jordan,” he said.

Erin Thompson picked her husband up at the airport Thursday and said it was hard to keep the secret from the girls. She tried to keep them busy that night and kept them out shopping for a bit, so Joel could enjoy a little time at the house before heading next door.

“I didn’t even answer my phone last night because I didn’t want someone to ask me a question and have to talk in code all night,” Erin said with a laugh.

While he was away, the family kept in contact via FaceTime, audio chats and email.

“There’s all sorts of technology nowadays that makes it easier,” Joel said.

Even so, he noted how much the girls had grown, and Haley was missing some teeth since he last saw her in person.

“I missed them so much, so I’m excited to be home and be part of their life,” he said.

As for Thanksgiving plans, the family had contemplated traveling but decided to stick close to home instead.

“We’re going to stay here and whatever these two little girls want to do, we’ll do,” he said with a broad smile.

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