LEXINGTON — Park Davis was in the middle of an inspired game during gym class when he got a surprise.
Gym teacher Cheryl Longnecker was looking for a third tagger for the game emergency. When the gym door opened, a man dressed in a military uniform entered.
The kids fell silent.
Park paused for a moment before he recognized the man. The 7-year-old then ran straight to him, his arms flailing.
Daddy was home.
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George Davis returned from a 10-month deployment this week. He is an E6 staff sergeant of the 196th MPAD (mobile public affairs detachment) for the Ohio Army National Guard at the Rickenbacker base in Columbus.
"It was amazing," Park said of the reunion, "and then we went to Dave & Buster's."
The second grader at Central Elementary School in Lexington had no idea his dad was going to be there.
"I thought he was coming home in March," Park said.
George hoped his deployment would end before Park's eighth birthday, which is Feb. 6.
George is a career military man. He enlisted in the Marines during his sophomore year at Ohio University.
Instead of paying for college, George had a chance to get paid to play his French horn.
"I was recruited to play music for the Marines," he said. "The military was giving me opportunities to follow my passions."
George Davis has been in military for 24 years
George spent four years in the Marines and has been in the Ohio National Guard for the last 20 years.
This deployment, as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, involved a trip to Germany, where George was in charge of a detachment. They handled photography, video and news writing for Army units stationed from France to Ukraine.
When George was asked about having to leave his family, Park answered for him with a thumbs-down sign.
"If I were a younger man, it would have been a good trip," George said. "This was not a good time for me to be away. I seriously considered retiring, but they didn't have enough soldiers to do this mission."
Park interjected, "At least you're back."
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The affection between father and son was evident as they wrestled on a couch at the family's home on the south side of Mansfield on Friday morning.
"These two are very close," wife and mom Stacy said. "For them to be apart was bothersome."
Stacy Davis kept family going during deployment
Stacy kept the homestead running. The longtime educator teaches sixth grade at Lexington's Eastern Elementary School.
She described her husband's time away as "not very fun." They have been married for more than 13 years.
"My family is right here and all our friends," she said. "We always had lots of support, but it was hard. I give single parents a lot of credit."
When George left in March, Stacy's colleagues at Eastern Elementary "showered" her with gift cards.
Stacy credited modern technology with making a "huge difference" while George was deployed. Through FaceTime, George and Park could watch "Star Wars" together and play Minecraft.
Still, it wasn't the same as having George home.
For George's homecoming, some of the teachers at Central "cooked up a scheme."
"We always wanted to surprise him," Stacy said.
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Rachel Smith, who is Park's teacher, along with Central Elementary Principal Scott Curtis, Longnecker and educational aide Belinda Pressey were involved in the plot.
"I just showed up in uniform," George said. "They had us drive and park around back. They smuggled me into the cafeteria."
While waiting, George visited with his in-laws, much to Stacy's consternation. She thought Park and his classmates would hear them.
"I was so excited," George said. "Cheryl (Longnecker) was pretty amped up, too."
Park added, "I was triple excited."
George recalled the moment Park recognized him.
"He burst into action," George said. "He came running across the floor, and I got to see my son."
George got initial welcoming at Columbus airport
The family patriarch had his first welcoming at Rickenbacker.
"Stacy and my sister and my nephew were there," George said. "My sister dressed as an inflatable dinosaur to cause as much embarrassment as possible."
His family kept the Christmas tree up, along with some unopened presents, to celebrate when George got home.
Also excited to see his return was Valentino, the family rescue dog, a poodle-terrier mix. He is so named because he was adopted on Valentine's Day.
"He's the older brother," George said.
While his dad was away, Park had to pick up some extra chores. Park was in charge of walking Valentino.
"He sometimes takes awhile to go No. 2," Stacy said of the pooch. "Park would get frustrated."
George is hoping he won't have to leave his family in the future. He is on a 30-day leave from the National Guard. He works as a federal technician at the Ohio headquarters in Columbus.
"I think retirement is in the near future," George said.
That's fine with Stacy, Park and Valentino.
"It's wonderful," Stacy said. "Our little family is whole again."
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: 'Family whole again': Lexington dad surprises son at school