KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two Park Hill School District students may have received the best early Christmas gift a child could want last week when their father came home early from service in Kuwait to surprise them at school.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Scott Skellenger was deployed to the Middle East in January of this year — his second such tour of duty since his children Chloe, 9, and Gavin, 11, were born. During his service with an aviation maintenance group in Kuwait, he could only contact his family via the internet.
“We used FaceTime about once a week to stay in touch,” Scott Skellenger said, noting that he’d recently had to skip his weekly call so the kids wouldn’t know he’d gotten home early from deployment. “They have no idea I’m home. I wasn’t supposed to be back until after Christmas.”
First stop on the reunion tour Friday, Dec. 8 was Union Chapel Elementary school, where principal Steve Archer said he and his staff were happy to help arrange the surprise.
Chloe Skellenger, a fourth grader, was headed for lunch on an ordinary school day when in the hallway she was greeted by a barrage of photographers and her father. Applause erupted from students and staff gathered to watch their long embrace.
The reunited duo headed downstairs where Scott Skellenger joined Chloe for lunch with her classmates.
When asked for her reaction, the clearly overwhelmed Chloe responded she was, “really happy.”
After lunch, Scott and Chloe Skellenger headed for Plaza Middle School, to surprise Gavin, a sixth grader, and complete a full family reunion.
The arrangements were a little more complex this time around with the big moment occurring in front of more than 100 of Gavin’s classmates and crews from two Kansas City television stations. Gavin’s teammates were brought together under the pretense that they were to be honored for their work as “Plaza Superheroes.”
Little did Gavin know he was about to be reunited with his own personal hero, complete with applause, cookies and welcome banners made by students in on the surprise. With cameras rolling, Scott Skellenger came into the packed room and hugged his son.
“It was a little embarrassing, but good,” Gavin said of the experience.
Scott Skellenger said he hopes he’s home to stay for a while, but he and his family — including his wife, Jessica, who serves in the National Guard — know that another deployment can come at any time.
For now, however, he said he’s ready to relax with his family for the holidays.
“It’s just amazing — to be back and to get to see them again,” Scott Skellenger said.