Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lehi airman pulls off 'Operation Surprise' with 4 pleased daughters

By Viviane Vo-Duc and Sam Penrod, Deseret News

Published: Sat, March 8 8:29 p.m. MST

 Sydney Goettig jumps into the arms of her father, Air Force Tech Sgt. Edward Goettig, who surprised her with his early return at Lehi Junior High School on Thursday, March 6, 2014. Goettig had been deployed to Afghanistan since Aug. 27, 2013.

Sydney Goettig jumps into the arms of her father, Air Force Tech Sgt. Edward Goettig, who surprised her with his early return at Lehi Junior High School on Thursday, March 6, 2014. Goettig had been deployed to Afghanistan since Aug. 27, 2013.

(Matt Gade, Deseret News)

LEHI — An airman who came home a week early after a six-month deployment to Afghanistan came up with an elaborate plan to surprise each of his girls in a carefully orchestrated series of events Thursday.

Air Force Tech Sgt. Edward Goettig had an army of people to help him pull off his most important mission yet: “Operation Surprise.”

His first stop from the airport was Lehi High School, where he wore the Pioneer Pete mascot suit to surprise his 16-year-old sophomore daughter, Bailee.

In the cafeteria, during what everyone thought was a pep rally, he gave high-fives to students, passed out candy and posed for photos. He even stood right in front of his daughter and waved to her and the other students. Being so close to Bailee, Goettig resisted the urge to hug her.

“I wanted to go grab her and give her a big hug, and I knew I couldn't do it yet,” he said.

Then the mascot’s mask came off. As soon as she realized who the mascot was, she screamed with joy and ran into his arms.

“I was so surprised,” Bailee said afterward. “My friends told me to come to the lunchroom, and I thought it was to meet a friend or something.”

Now with Bailee joining the force, the next stop was Lehi Junior High, where 14-year-old Sydney was called to the principal's office. The mission was nearly foiled as the eighth-grader started walking down the hallway too soon. Disaster was averted, and when she walked backed into the classroom, it took her a moment to notice someone was sitting in her desk.

Her father looked at her and said, “Hi.” Then she ran to him and hugged him while he laughed at her reaction.

“I had no clue,” the 14-year-old said. “I was really surprised.”

Now the toughest part of the mission: two daughters at Fox Hollow Elementary School.

The first stop was Addie's sixth-grade class, which came together for a patriotic assembly. She led the group in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Then a special speaker came out from behind a curtain. Addie’s jaw dropped. She ran to her dad and started crying as she hugged him.

“I was like, 'It must be a really big deal 'cause if they are opening up the curtain, it must be really big,” the 11-year-old said.

The last stop in “Operation Surprise” was a special present for Olivia, who was celebrating her 10th birthday Thursday. Not only did the fourth grade sing to her on her birthday, there was a big box in wrapping paper for her on the stage.

As she opened the big red box, her father, who was hiding inside, said, “Surprise! Happy Birthday!”

Tears of joy came down Olivia's face as she hugged her dad.

When asked what she thought was in the box, she said, “Something small since it is such a big box.”

Wife Tracie Goettig orchestrated Thursday's mission flawlessly, with the help of many people at each of the schools.

“I wanted to be able to let each child have their own special reunion with their daddy,” Goettig said. “It’s hard, hard, hard to keep such a big secret from family and friends. Each child, it’s fun to watch them react. It’s just priceless — absolutely priceless.”

Once “Operation Surprise” was over, the family left Fox Hollow Elementary School to start celebrating the homecoming and Olivia's birthday.

Email: spenrod@deseretnews.com, vvo-duc@ksl.com

Soldier homecoming: Daughter unwraps birthday surprise

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1. Gemini
Australia, 00,
March 7, 2014

How absolutely priceless. I love "good news week"!! For a loving mother to individually give each of her daughters special welcome home time with their dad is telling these girls "you are loved" by this wonderful man! Thanks Deseret News. :)

2. Jamescmeyer
Midwest City, USA, OK,
March 7, 2014

I love hearing about this sort of thing! I hope I'm blessed with a family of some kind by the time I deploy so I can pull something like this.

3. suzyk#1
Mount Pleasant, UT,
March 7, 2014

To: jamescmeyer - I hope you do too - you deserve that.

4. Bdamajd
Centerville, UT,
March 7, 2014

Every time I see or hear about a soldier coming home early and surprising his/her family, i almost instantly start crying. I think it may be because I know a little bit about the feelings these families have because I was away from my family for 3 months and I will never forget the elation I felt when my 4 year old boy ran and jumped into my arms and we both started crying. Beautiful story! I am so thankful for the men and women who sacrifice so much to serve and preserve our country. They are the true heroes in the world. I wish we would hear on the news about their bravery in life and death, and not spend so much time celebrating the lives of celebrities who died from their illegal and foolish abuse of drugs and alcohol. It is sad where our country's priorities seem to be sometimes.

5. neece
Logan, UT,
March 7, 2014

I just love stories like this! My son is a staff SGT. in the Air Force and has come home safely three times and to see all of his son's reaction is so much fun.I work at a Major University and we have military on campus. I make it a point to shake each and every one of their hands and "Thank" them for their service for us. Don't wait for a special occasion, Thank every military person for YOUR freedom.