Army Specialist Seth Howard got the best presents in the world when he returned home to his family after an 11-month deployment to Jordan on his 27th birthday.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better in the whole world,” he told ABC News of surprising his 3-year-old twins, Riley and Liam Howard, at their school, Gahanna Christian Academy, in Ohio.
“I was so excited. I was shaking I was so nervous,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I got in the military. I was going to walk into the classroom, but the academy took it upon themselves to make a big, big deal about it. It was so awesome. It was even better than I could imagine.”
His wife, Shannon Howard, is a teacher at the school. She said her coworkers and students were “so amazing and so loving” to help put the elaborate surprise together.
“They’ve really gone on this journey with me since August,” she said. “I’ve been very transparent with them about this, in case I’m ever a little testy one day. I remember when I told my freshman class that my husband was back in the U.S. they all stood up and started cheering.”
Shannon Howard was pregnant when her husband left for his deployment. She said that was the most difficult part of him being away.
“It was insane. The hormones, you’re already so hormonal, let alone your husband is leaving,” she said. “I was a mess when he first left. But we have so much support from our families. They were so helpful. We moved in with my parents. We were already outnumbered by our children, and with another one on the way, they told us to stay with us. Throughout this deployment, I learned to accept help. Just accept it. It will make life easier.”
Seth Howard had never met his baby son until he arrived home Wednesday night along with more than 300 soldiers from the 1st battalion of the 148th infantry regiment with the Ohio National Guard.
“When I got done with the coming home ceremony in Toledo, all I could think about was, ‘I can’t wait to meet this guy,’” he recalled. “I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to do. My jaw dropped and I just stared at him. I couldn’t let him go and I kept kissing and hugging him. He’s been smiling and the happiest baby ever since I’ve been home.”
Despite being overseas, the military father was able to FaceTime with his wife during the delivery of their son, Declan.
“My wife did an amazing job about FaceTiming me and keeping me informed so they didn’t forget me. That was my biggest fear,” said Seth Howard.
But they certainly didn’t. The second he walked into the school gym, the entire Howard family was flooded with emotions.
“When I walked in and made eye contact, they were in awe,” he said. “They saw me and stopped, and when I knelt down they ran to me. My oldest son, I think he was in so much shock he didn’t know if this was real. They gave me the biggest hug and there was so emotion I couldn’t hold it in. I was tearing up.”
The happy family is thrilled to their daddy home for the holidays and can’t wait to cherish every moment together. Seth Howard has no plans for redeployment and will be done with his six-year military contract in July.
“Oh my gosh, words can’t even explain how thrilled we are,” said Shannon Howard. “Three of our four kids have birthdays in December too. We are just so excited. I have a list of all the Christmas things I want to do like build gingerbread houses. We couldn’t ask for a better gift than having him home.”