January 18, 2012 - Griffin Schroeder was just getting settled in Ms. Grasso's class on Jan. 10 when Clarkston High School Assistant Principal Jeff Kosin knocked on the door.
The Schroeder family, from left in back, Debby, Keaton, Kurt, Griffin; in front, Bryson and Weston, gather at Clarkston High School to welcome Kurt home from Afghanistan. Photo by Wendi Reardon (click for larger version)
He stepped in followed by Lt. Col. Kurt Schroeder, his dad. It was a surprise since Griffin didn't expect him home until the next day.
After not seeing his dad since September, Griffin got out of his seat and welcomed his dad with a tight hug.
Kurt, a lieutenant colonel in the International guard and an A-10 pilot, came home Monday along with 280 others from Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom.
Kurt and his wife, Debby, had surprised all four of their sons stopping by each of their schools. They began at Orion Oaks Elementary in Lake Orion for Weston and Bryson before heading to Clarkston Junior High School for eighth grader Keaton and the last stop was the high school.
"This was the first opportunity we had to surprise them like this," Kurt smiled. "Last time there younger and out by the time we got back."
Debby admitted it was hard to keep it a secret.
"I didn't know if it would be better to have them there when he came home," she added.
The sons were excited having him home. Bryson and Weston already planned playing football and wrestling would be on the agenda.
"They don't do a tag team," Kurt shook his head. "They do it all at once."
"It is always nice to come home and get reunited with the family," he said. "I don't know if it is more difficult on me or these guys. Sometimes it is more difficult on them."
Kurt was gone for not only Thanksgiving, Christmas and bringing in the New Year with his family but celebrating his birthday and his wife's birthday with the family.
"Everyone over there went through the same thing and that is part of it. That's my job," Kurt added. "We don't get to choose when we go. Any military family is signed up for it but family doesn't always get a choice. They are just as strong as the military members going over there and that's what they need. They need to know when they are gone they are safe."
Kurt and the rest of the unit were in Afghanistan to support NATO troops and U.S. forces on the ground.
"It is difficult to always get an accurate picture of what is going on over there," he said. "But we were doing some good work. The biggest thing is win the hearts and minds of Afghan people."
While soldiers were on the ground interacting with civilians, Kurt was in the air providing security and air support. From the air they could see potential danger on the ground from the Taliban. They also provided reinforcement if needed.
"We are able to see things better from the air," he said. "Even in wartime they were being engaged by the enemy and being pinned down. We were kind of that additional force that helped a lot of guys come home safely when they were engaged out there. It is a good feeling to help those guys like that."
His work didn't just get noticed by the ground forces. As he followed his family out of Ms. Grasso's classroom and into the hallway he was greeted with an overwhelming sight.
The hallway was lined with high school students and teachers applauding. As they turned down another corridor more students and teachers were waiting for them.
Kurt smiled with a gleam in his eyes after reaching the front office and said, "it was nice."
The Schroeder family celebrated the holidays over the weekend and now going into the ritual of having dad home.
"It is the challenge and anticipation of how everyone is going to intergrate back together," said Kurt. "I have been gone and have my own routine and they have their own routine and we will mesh it together again."
Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.