COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A Columbia serviceman will spend the holidays with his family after returning from an 11-month deployment in Iraq and surprising his children upon his arrival.
Staff Sergeant Raymond Henry served with Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, returning from his second deployment. After getting back, his wife proposed the idea of surprising their children during an assembly at Harbison West Elementary School.
“When you’re away from family, it takes a part of you away,” he said. “Even though you’re around people the whole time, a part of you is gone. But when you come near family, it’s like I’m complete again.”
After a seemingly normal school holiday assembly, the principal announced one final surprise.
“This final gift comes to us from Iraq,” he said. “I’d like to welcome back Staff Sergeant Raymond Henry!”
Henry’s fifth-grader, kindergartener, and son in 4-K sat in the crowd, initially failing to realize what was happening. That was, until they laid their eyes on their dad.
“I was so surprised! It was great,” Shanel Henry said.
The auditorium, filled with students, parents, and teachers all gave Henry a standing ovation.
“No matter how many tours I do, no matter how far I am away from my family, when I’m with them, I feel complete,” Staff Sgt. Henry said. “But when I’m away from them, I feel like something is missing. I’m whole again.”
Henry thanked everyone for taking care of his children and family in his absence. His children, excited to hand-gift their dad Christmas gifts they never thought they’d give him in person.
“I made him a reindeer and I made him an elf!” Shanel Henry said.
The family is looking forward to spending the holidays together, while Staff Sgt. Henry said he’s home for good until duty calls.