BRISTOL, Tenn. — When second-grader Alex Morse began to read a poem at an Anderson Elementary School assembly Friday morning, he had no idea he was about to receive a personal Valentine’s Day surprise.
The 7-year-old stood in the middle of a stage in the school gym, facing dozens of students who sat in rows of chairs, many wearing red and pink outfits for the holiday.
“When I help a friend that is feeling sad, or I do an extra chore,” he said into a microphone held up by a teacher, “I am spreading kindness everywhere, and soon there will be more.”
When Alex finished reading off a sheet of paper, the teacher took a few steps back and a man in camouflage walked out behind him. The boy was still looking at the crowd as the man bent down and lowered his face closer to Alex’s.
He seemed stunned for a moment as he looked up. He then immediately extended his arms to embrace the man, who picked Alex up.
Army Sgt. Eric Morse, who recently returned from a nine-month deployment to Poland, greeted his son as a surprise guest at Friday’s assembly.
“Anderson Rams, this is Alex’s daddy, he serves us in the United States Army. Can we give it up for a huge round of applause?” Principal Ginger Christian said.
Eric still held Alex as a few other family members joined them on the side of the stage, and Christian thanked the family for their service.
The assembly also featured the presentation of a banner to Anderson Elementary, which is a gold-level RTI2-B Model of Demonstration School by a program at the University of Tennessee. This award recognizes Anderson for encouraging positive behavior among students and improving school climate.
“It really is their celebration because children demonstrate our expectations when they are making good choices, and acting as leaders, and acts of kindness, and our children take care of one another, and it’s just created a really magical culture for us here at Anderson,” Christian said.
As students filed out of the gym and returned to class, the Morse family shared some of their initial reactions to the reunion.
“It’s pretty rough,” Eric Morse said about being away from his family. “But it’s part of the job.” He’s served in the military for about 18 years, he said.
The surprise had been in the works over the last few months, said Nicole Morse, Alex’s mother.
“He thought we were going to Fort Bragg [North Carolina] after school today,” Nicole said about her son.
“I thought it was very exciting,” Alex said. He said he missed his dad and may want to serve in the military himself one day.
Asked what he plans to do now that he’s home from overseas, Eric Morse said he will enjoy the mountains.
“And lay around all day,” Alex added, eliciting laughs from his family.