COLUMBIA (WACH) â?? â??In the sixteen years and nine months Iâ??ve served,â?? says Army Sergeant First Class David Jones, â??there has never been a day or a moment that I didnâ??t feel they were with me, regardless of what I went through.â??
Not knowing what he wanted to do after high school, SFC Jones enlisted in 1997, serving as a military policeman, or â?? 95 Bravo ,â?? as the Army then called his profession.
He initially planned to do his five year commitment, but when the stop-loss went into effect after 9/11, he thought that was a sign to remain in the military and serve his country.
Through his many years of service, as with many of our military members, he has missed birthdays, wedding, graduations, funerals, and many other events. â??There has never been a moment when my parents Ralph and Kathy or my sisters Kathryn and Katelyn have ever questioned what we do or the Army has done,â?? says Sgt. Jones.
SFC Jones has been deployed to Iraq several times over the last 10 years of the War on Terror , and most recently, spent 10 months serving in Afghanistan.
After seeing stories of soldiers returning home to surprise their famlies, he knew that was something special he wanted to do for his. â??As a soldier, we get ours, but to honor your family; to show them in this way, itâ??s just beyond belief,â?? he says.
SFC Jones and his fiancÃ learned that the Columbia Metropolitan Airport , partnering with the USO , highlight a military family at each University of South Carolina home game, and from there, his plan took shape. He received an email from the Airportâ??s Kaela Harmon, who helped him organize his surprise.
Harmon contacted Jonesâ?? family, who are mostly made up of USC alumni, and told them they would be the military family of parentâ??s weekend. Jones then had to create a cover story as to why he would not be returning. â??I kind of told them I got extended,â?? he said, telling his family he would remain an additional three months. To ensure that his facade remained, he even stayed of Facebook, text message, and any other form of communication that might ruin his story.
He even recorded a faux message that would play when his family was on the field, to further ensure they had no idea that he was standing right behind them.
After weeks of planning, a day long plane ride back to the United States, and a car ride from Fort Bragg , NC, SFC Jones arrived at Williams Brice for the big surprise.
During a tour of the stadium, SFC Jones took a moment on the 50 yard line to let it all sink in. â??I canâ??t imagine being out here once everyone is here.â?? he said referring to the 80,000 fans that would be watching the moment, â??Wow.â??
Word came from the athletic department that his family had arrived, and were getting their own behind the scenes guided tour, and had absolutely no idea what they were in for.
Just after 7:00 p.m., it was time to head to the field. His family, at the visiting team entrance, and he, just 100 yards away near where the Gamecocks enter the field.
His family was called out on the field, and recognized as the military family of the game, and as the recorded message played, Sgt. Jones stood behind them. As they turned, nothing but pure joy and surprise could be felt by everyone in the sold out football stadium.
â??This guy didnâ??t even cry,â?? SFC Jones said almost disappointingly about his dadâ??s response, but that didnâ??t mean he wasnâ??t moved. â??What a great surprise,â?? Ralph Jones said. â??Christmas earlyâ?|Christmas in October.â??
If you would like to learn more about the military family program, you can contact Kaela Harmon HERE.