Abby Jones, 7, got a surprise on Monday when her father, Spc. Casey Jones, paid a visit to her classroom.
Jones, a Lenoir County native, recently returned to the states from a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan and visited Abby’s Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School class.
“We concocted this plan to surprise her at school,” he said about him and his wife, Belinda Jones.
His wife; mother, Deana Jones; Brenda’s mother, Mandy Howard; and Abby’s brother, Adam Jones, were all gathered at the school for the reunion.
“I’m glad he’s home,” Howard said. “He’s missed a lot while he’s been deployed.”
Abby said her father’s surprise made her “excited.”
“I didn’t knoqw what to think,” she said when her father tapped on her shoulder. “And I turned around and it was my daddy. Then I jumped up and hugged him.”
In December, Jones planned the surprise visit when he found out when he’d be coming home. He arrived in Fort Drum in New York on Jan. 14 with his wife going up to meet him. But Abby thought her mother had taken a trip to the mountains. Jones headed home to Kinston when his 30-day leave began. Brenda Jones related how she felt on Sunday.
“I was just kind of excited for Abby because she’s asking about him yesterday and last night,” she said, “and I wanted to tell her last night really, really bad, but I didn’t. But I was excited for Abby because she knew she was going to get to talk to him, but she didn’t know she was going to get to see him today.”
Casey Jones hid out at his grandmother’s house until arriving at Abby’s classroom.
It wasn’t the first family surprise visit by Jones. When Adam, 15, was in the fourth grade, his father pulled a surprise visit at school on him after coming back from Iraq.
“I was excited he was back,” Adam said about that first surprise at his school. His friends thought it was “cool,” he added.
While abroad, Casey Jones communicated mostly with his wife, and occasionally with Abby. But his daughter was usually asleep when he called because of the time difference, he said.
“I tried to communicate daily with the Facebook messenger,” he said, “but I called at least once every 10 days.”
More recently, he talked with his wife about surprising their daughter.
“We talked about coming home and surprising Abby,” Jones said. “And then when I got to talk to Abby, she talked about how she missed me.”
Abby said she missed her dad a lot.
“I told him that ‘I miss you,’ ” she said.
Jones, who has served 10 years in the Army, has taken two one-year deployments to Iraq and and one to Afghanistan. This deployment was a little shorter.
“With this being the fourth deployment,” he said, “we’re pretty used to it. But as (Abby’s) getting older, it’s harder for them as the kids. It seems like I’m gone more than I am home.”
Jones, who graduated from South Lenoir High School in 2003, is attached to the Alpha Company, HO Attack Battilion, 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry division. As an Attack Helicopter 64 Apache crew chief, his job was to maintain and inspect the 18 aircraft at the Forward Operating Base Shank, known as Rocket City, in the Logar Province.
Jones said it was “a little scary” in Afghanistan.
“We were fortunate enough not to lose any aircraft,” he said, “but we did lose a few people to the indirect fire.”
Casey plans to spend his 30-day leave with his family, get out oi the military and look for a job. The first order of the day on Monday was to take his daughter to get some frozen yogurt. His big surprise brought his emotions out.
“It was so exciting,” he said about the reunion. “I couldn’t hold back the tears.”