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Photo by Madeline Parish

Junior Piper Spaulding hugs her brother Sawyer Spaulding. Sawyer surprised his two younger sister after serving in Afgahanistan and Italy for the last 22 months.

Home for the holidays

Spaulding sisters surprised by brother's homecoming

December 4, 2015

Twenty-two crowded cameras packed inside one tight portable classroom. Twenty-two pairs of eyes waited patiently in anticipation. With the creak of a door and an intake of breath, 22 tears stained the cheeks of Junior Piper and Freshman Hartley Spaulding as they hugged their brother for the first time in 22 months.

After being deployed for nearly two years, including six months in Afghanistan, Airmen First Class Sawyer Spaulding has come home. Fighting jet lag and anxiety, Sawyer and his parents Kim and Brian Spaulding planned tirelessly to give Piper and Hartley a Christmas surprise that wouldn’t fit under most trees.

“Sawyer has always wanted to surprise them at school and they would like to be surprised at school, but in the past it has always fallen on a weekend or when we were out on holiday,” Kim said. “We really wanted this one to work out.”

With the only concern being the transportation, Sawyer felt at ease when his flight hit the runway in the United States.

Airman Sawyer Spaulding holds his sister Piper's hand while his youngest sister Hartley beams with excitement after Spaulding surprised his sisters in his mother's classroom Thursday.
Photo by Madeline Parish
Airman Sawyer Spaulding holds his sister Piper’s hand while his youngest sister Hartley beams with excitement after Spaulding surprised his sisters in his mother’s classroom Thursday.

“I had a lot of anxiety up until this point, even some that I did not realize,” Sawyer said. “I was really worried about traveling and once everything worked out with getting here, I just hung out. I really wanted to surprise them, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m thankful to have siblings who care for me as much as they do.”

Knowing that her brother’s leave was approaching, Piper grew anxious. In order to keep the plot alive, Brian and Kim set a plan that avoided any conflict.

“We obviously had to put something together because the oldest daughter, Piper, had gotten suspicious,” Brian said. “It was becoming December and she knew he was coming. I left the house with hunting clothes, changed, and my dad and I went to Dallas and picked him up.”

The absence of her father didn’t go unnoticed, or unobserved. After prodding and inquisitioning, Piper refused to believe it was an average hunting trip.

“Piper texted me throughout the day wanting me to send her a selfie of me deer hunting,” Brian said. “I couldn’t do it. I was at an airport. I didn’t want the background in it. I’m not as smart with these smart phones as they are and I was thinking if I put something on here it may show my location. I don’t normally take selfies while deer hunting but I had taken one in the past and Kim had it. I sent it to Piper and told her my battery was dying and that I had to text her later when I got back. That laid it down a little bit.”

Piper and Hartley were told that their mother had received the “Texas Horticulture Teacher of the Year” award, and they were let out of class believing they were going to be interviewed.

“I thought our mom was getting an award,” Hartley said. “I completely fell for it. I had no idea he was going to be here.  I was surprised and happy and shocked, so many emotions overwhelmed me when my brother walked up behind me.”

With red splotchy cheeks and tear stained eyes, Piper was glad to finally have a full family Christmas.  

“I’m really surprised,” Piper said. “I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m just really happy. It’s been awhile. I wanted Sawyer to come home [for Christmas] and so I’ll have to make a new Christmas list.”

Shipping back out at the end of December, the Spauldings may not have a long time with Sawyer, but the time they are granted together will be cherished.

“To us, he’s a hero and I’d like for him to see a hero’s welcome any time,” Kim said. “I think all of our servicemen deserve a hero’s welcome and honor them when we have a chance to. I didn’t know what ‘award’ I had actually gotten this time. The award of having all my children home at the same time under the same roof is all I need.”

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