Airman Surprises Wife with an Early Return from Iraq

Ashley Terry hugs her husband, SSgt. Will Terry, for the first time in seven months.
Ashley Terry hugs her husband, SSgt. Will Terry, for the first time in seven months.
THONOTOSASSA (2010-8-31) -

Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Will Terry was returning earlier than planned after seven months in Iraq. He’s one of the beneficiaries of the recently-completed drawdown of U.S. combat forces there.

Terry wanted to surprise his wife – a second grade teacher at Thonotosassa Elementary School. So he contacted her boss, Principal Michele Gregory.

Gregory has known Terry’s wife, Ashley, since Ashley was a second grader at the school.

“He called me last Wednesday and asked me to get Ashley a sub. I said sure, anything,” Gregory said, laughing.

Now Ashley Terry teaches second grade for Gregory, who understands the stress of having family deployed in a war zone.

“I have a nephew about his same age in Afghanistan right now, so I just kind of know. I never ask how is he doing,” Gregory said.

Ashley Terry talks with her husband every day, which made it more difficult for Sgt. Terry to pull off his ruse. Dressed in his camouflage uniform and combat boots, he explained the surprise plot to reporters as he waited for his wife amid rows of library books in the media center.

“She has no clue that I’m here. She actually thinks I’ll be here in a couple of weeks,” he said. “She actually thinks I’m leaving Iraq today. And low and behold I’m here.”

He resisted the temptation of telling her he was arriving early, but admitted he was a little nervous about the reunion.

“We’ve been independent of each other for the past seven months, so getting accustomed back to each other’s little knickknack things. But I have a good feeling it’s going to be a good transition,” he said.

While he waited, Terry recalled their last conversation as she dropped him off for duty.

“Come home,” she said.

His wife isn’t the only family at Thonotosassa Elementary – he has two nephews and three nieces, who greeted him with a big hug before his wife arrived. Madison Fernandez couldn’t stop smiling.

“I really missed him and I’m excited to see him. We’re all happy to see him,” she said.

His nephew Hal Grant missed driving in his uncle’s truck.

“We go mudding a lot. We always get in his truck and there’s this mud puddle at the end of the road and we always spin out in it and the truck always get muddy and we’re inside of the truck and it’s always fun,” Grant said.

After all the second graders were ushered into the center and the TV cameras positioned, his wife was brought in under the guise of attending a meeting.

Terry did surprise his wife of five years. Students applauded and teachers cheered as they embraced – surrounded by a crush of TV cameras. The couple kissed, hugged, kissed again.

“This right here is what it’s all about, America,” Terry said. “This right here, makes it all worth it. Time away is not fun but this right here validates it.”

Awed by the surprise and news media, Ashley Terry was asked what she thought when she saw her husband.

“Oh my gosh, he’s home,” she answered. “He looks great.”

Terry told her, “I love you babe. I’m home.”

Such a public homecoming she admitted was a little awkward. “Was this your planning?” she asked Terry. He told her he’d arranged for a substitute teacher for the rest of the week.

“Good Job, babe,” she replied.

Mary Beth Craft – another Thonotosassa second grade teacher - witnessed their reunion. She said she was happy and sad at the same time. Craft’s 29-year-old son just deployed to Afghanistan a few weeks ago.

“I’m very happy for them, don’t get me wrong. But yeah, it was a little bittersweet,” Craft said. She added that her son has been gone a month, and she’s counting down every day until he returns home.

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