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Dad’s chow line surprise

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Son gets unexpected visit at North Elementary School

By Chris Sardelli

An orderly stroll turned into a full sprint as 6-year-old Jaidyn Thrower rounded the corner into North Elementary School’s cafeteria on Monday morning, March 3. 

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Expecting to sit down for a normal lunch, Jaidyn instead was surprised to find his father, U.S. Army National Guard 1st Lt. Jacobi Thrower standing there, clad in full uniform and back from a one year tour in Afghanistan.

With his eyes slowly widening, Jaidyn ran into his father’s arms and gave him a big hug. 

“Are you surprised to see me?” the elder Thrower said, as Jaidyn nodded in response. 

Watching nearby were Jaidyn’s mother Chiquita Parker, as well as Jacobi Thrower’s mother and sister, Carol and Tanishia White. 

Scooping up his son and carrying him in his arms, Thrower beamed as they reunited, a day after he surprised the rest of his family during a Sunday church service. 

“He surprised us at church yesterday,” Carol White said. “It was very emotional. The whole church was crying. My granddaughter’s Sunday school teacher asked her what were you praying for last Sunday. She said for God to bring Jacobi home safe. She was like ‘turn around’ and there he was.”

Parker was equally surprised when she found out a few hours later. 

“I’m glad. We’ve been looking forward to him coming back. I thought he wouldn’t be here until March 21 and then to see him home yesterday, it’s great,” Parker said.

As surprising as the reunion was, even Thrower himself didn’t know he was coming home until Feb. 22, and except for a few friends, he kept the secret until his arrival. 

“No one knew I was coming home,” he said. 

The return trip was a long time coming. 

After spending three years training with the National Guard, Thrower was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2013, where he’s been until he arrived back in Lancaster on Sunday. 

“Over there I was in charge of a communication network. It was like being a regional manager for (a business like) Verizon for 50 percent of the United States,” he said. “I covered two regions in Afghanistan.”

Thrower said it was difficult being away from his family for so long. 

“I’m very family oriented. They are my major support system and they helped me get through this. It was really hard to wait until I got back to see them,” he said. “All of this makes me feel loved. I can see, though, how much he (Jaidyn) missed me.

“It was challenging. I’ve never been away from him for this amount of time, but we made the best of it,” Thrower said.

Adding to the joy of his return, Thrower also learned on Feb. 24 he was promoted from second to first lieutenant. 

“I’m home for good now, though. Now I can take advantage of the benefits from the National Guard and go back to school,” he said. “I want to be a scientist.”

‘Yeah, I’m staying’

Moments before the tearful reunion, North Elementary School Principal Keishea Mickles quickly fixed a cluster of balloons swaying near the cafeteria entrance and then began prepping Jaidyn’s family for his arrival. 

“He’ll come for lunch at 10:25 and his class will enter this door right here,” Mickles said. “He should see you when he comes around the corner.”

As she waited, Mickles smiled at the thought of helping reunite Jaidyn with his father.

“I’m very excited for him, knowing we’ll get to be part of this reunion with his family,” she said. 

A few minutes and several hugs later, the father and son walked through the cafeteria line together, grabbed some food and sat down to chat. 

Between bites of broccoli and scoops of mashed potatoes, dad and son shared small talk and caught up on the last few month’s of each others’ lives.

Despite the distance, though, both Jaidyn and his father had found a way to see each other every week. 

“He got to Skype his daddy,” Parker said. “He learned how to use Skype and now he’s Skyping everyone.”

With a bite from his chicken sandwich, Jaidyn stopped for a minute, leaned close to his dad and whispered something.

With a smile, the elder Thrower looked down and hugged him.

“Am I staying? Yeah I’m staying,” Thrower said. 

Now that the secret was revealed, Jaidyn’s Aunt Tanishia confessed to her nephew about why she couldn’t see him for their weekly visit the previous day. 

“Guess why I couldn’t come? Because your daddy was hiding out at my house,” she said.

Parker then spent a few minutes filling Thrower in on all the happenings in their son’s life. 

“He plays basketball, but you know we gotta keep him busy. He plays soccer too and in one of his games he scored the only goal,” she told him. “Oh and he has a girlfriend. Point out your girlfriend to your daddy.”

Jaidyn quickly stood up, scanned the room and pointed to a little girl in pig tails.

“He gave her a Valentine this year,” Parker said with a smile. 

Just then, a surprise visitor made her way to their table – Jacobi Thrower’s own first-grade teacher Sandra Cauthen, who still works at North Elementary. 

“I taught your daddy in first grade. That was a long time ago,” Cauthen said to Jaidyn, before turning her attention to her former pupil. “I’m so proud of you.”

As the reunion celebration came to a close, Mickles quieted the crowd and asked the students to give the soldier a proper welcome. 

“We’re here to celebrate 1st Lt. Jacobi Thrower and all he’s done for our country,” Mickles said. “On the count of three let’s all say thank you. One, two, three.”

“Thank you,” the crowd of students yelled. 

Returning to their meals, Jaidyn rattled off a list of things he’s been waiting to do until his dad returned home. 

“I want to build a treehouse and I want to go somewhere for my birthday. I want to go to Sky High,” he said about spending his upcoming 7th birthday on April 11 at the Pineville, N.C., trampoline park. 

“I thought you wanted to go somewhere else. Well, I guess he wants to do it all,” his father said, with a shrug. 

 

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416