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Young Shelby Kate Stokes embraces her dad, Mississippi Army National Guard Sfc. Jacob Stokes, after their reunion in her classroom at DeSoto Central Primary School in Southaven on Wednesday afternoon. Stokes returned from active duty in Kuwait five weeks early to surprise his daughter.

A solder surprised his eight-year-old daughter during class at DeSoto Central Primary School in Southaven this week. 

Shelby Kate had not seen her father the past year since he had been deployed to Kuwait with the Army National Guard and her parents wanted to make sure his return home was extra special.

Sfc. Joshua Stokes and his wife, Macy, called their daughter’s school to ask if such a reunion was possible.

Their child’s teacher, Tammy Haire, quickly responded by setting activities in motion to be sure Shelby Kate and her family would have a homecoming all would remember, as well as a hero’s welcome.

In about an hour, teachers and students made posters, signs, and gathered flags for her classmates to wave. All, except Shelby Kate, were in on the secret, and no one gave it away. Shelby Kate thought her Dad was returning in five weeks. She had a calendar to count down the days.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, while working on a computer with headphones, Shelby Kate turned around when a soldier in fatigues tapped her on the shoulder.

She recognized, then stood and embraced her dad. There was total silence in the room for a moment until her classmates burst into applause.

“I think you have grown since I saw you,” Stokes said as he hugged his child.

“I have,” she replied.

Stokes then told those watching the scene, “I’m just happy to see my girl.”

The reunion quickly ended the school day with the blessings of Haire to take the rest of the day off.

Stokes and his family, including young Shelby, gathered up her things, including her backpack. Following a hug from her teacher, the family made their way out the door.

They were going home.

Katherine Nelson is Communications Director for the DeSoto County School District.

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