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Army dad’s return a sweet Valentine’s Day surprise

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Updated: March 17, 2013 6:29PM

STREAMWOOD — About 500 pairs of eyes wandered as Ridge Circle Elementary School Principal Neal Siegellak asked the students at a Valentine’s Day assembly if they’d heard about President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address earlier in the week. The president had talked about bringing home all the troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, Siegellak explained.

And “one of the soldiers who has protected us for a long time in Afghanistan,” the principal said, came home that day to Streamwood, likely for good, given the president’s timeline — a sweet surprise for his daughter, a student at the school.

Those eyes lit up. And the room, erupted in cheers as U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lt. Jordon Wolf walked into the assembly carrying a bouquet of flowers and a heart-shaped balloon for his daughter, Kayla.

Kayla clapped her hands over her mouth as her classmates screamed and wildly pointed out the 11-year-old in the crowd. She moved in slow motion, then broke into a run at the front of the assembly.

Her dad caught her in his arms and spun her wildly, then buried his face in her hair for a long moment, wiping his eyes.

“He’s home,” Kayla said. “I kept thinking it was a dream: ‘Is it a dream? Is it a dream?’ It’s not a dream because my mom pinched me.”

The two hadn’t seen each other in nearly a year, since Lt. Wolf deployed to Afghanistan as a clinical social worker — helping the soldiers stay in the fight, as he described it.

It was “super rewarding,” he said. But, he said, “This was hard. Kayla’s a foot taller, I swear.”

“That’s what was hard — not being able to squeeze my kids.”

There were photos and drawings from Kayla and her younger siblings — Jace, 5, and Lexie, 2. Wolf hung them on the wall of his office behind his desk so, he said, “every day I could turn around and see my family.”

There were Skype conversations sometimes weeks apart; bad connections “so I never got to see him perfectly,” Kayla said. There was a dad singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” on a computer screen over and over to the daughter who was just over a year old when he left home.

And there were care packages to his unit from the eight-graders at Ridge Circle at the holidays. Kayla slipped a special note in the package because she knew her dad would get it, she said.

Wolf thanked the students for those packages that had “helped us have a little bit of home when we were far, far away from home.”

He and Siegellak had been coordinating the assembly since January, according to the principal. He had told teachers only that he would “share something sweet” to keep the secret from getting out, he said.

Afterward, Wolf, his parents, sister and ex-wife all planned to surprise Jace and Lexie at their day care. And, Kayla said, it’s now her turn to surprise her dad.

“He said (he’d be home) after Valentine’s Day,” she said. “He tricked me. I’ve got to get him back.”

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