Kara Hildreth hangs tight to her dad, Captain Michael Hildreth, Monday as he surprises her with his return from Romania, where he spent six months on deployment with the Army National Guard.

BUCKHANNON – Students and staff at Tennerton Elementary School gathered on the playground early Monday morning with the intent of learning about their new playground equipment purchased by the school PTO – but the gathering was just a diversion from the real reason.

TES first-grader Kara Hildreth sat patiently in the front row looking at the climbing wall and other new apparatuses on the playground, unaware that everyone around her was in on a secret to surprise her. All the students had signs and American flags and they, along with the school’s staff and some parents had arranged to surprise Kara with the return of her father from his six-month deployment in Romania.

When Kara turned to see the ‘expert’ who was supposedly about to speak with those gathered about playground safety, she gasped and started waving hello to her father – Capt. Michael Hildreth. Kara jumped up and ran with her arms open wide, right into her dad’s arms. She hugged him tightly as he held her and gave her a bouquet of flowers.

Tennerton Elementary School first-grader Kara Hildreth is surprised Monday to see her father after his six-month deployment in Romania.

It was a touching sight those gathered will not soon forget and a great experience to share – demonstrating love, sacrifice and the joy of family, staff and PTO members observed.

Capt. Hildreth, who is a member of the U.S. Army National Guard, 1092nd Engineer Battalion, spent the last six months deployed in Romania. His wife, Lisa, said he is a physician assistant.

“So, his deployments are thankfully shorter,” Lisa said. “He came home early Saturday morning and since the surprise reunion was planned, I sent Kara to my mother’s home for a weekend-long slumber party. My mom dropped her off at school this morning.”

Lisa shared that Kara thought her dad would be home very late on Monday evening and was looking forward to seeing him and spending all day at home Tuesday with him.

“That is how we kept this a secret,” Lisa laughed. “I had originally asked the principal if Michael could come into the school during the day to surprise her – but, between Principal Tristen Gray and Mrs. McDaniels, they thought it would be a great experience for the entire school, so they made it more than I could ever imagine.”

“We have missed him and we are glad he is home,” Lisa added.

Capt. Michael Hildreth; his wife, Lisa; and their two children, Kara and Derek pose for a family photo after Kara’s surprise reunion with her dad Monday at Tennerton Elementary School.

“I wanted to come here to surprise my daughter, Kara,” Michael Hildreth said. “Some people were very excited to have this ceremony – I haven’t seen my family since March – it was a little bit hard to keep this a secret, but I didn’t want to ruin the ceremony. I was very happy to see her.”

Michael Hildreth said the hardest part of being deployed and stationed in Romania was being apart from his family.

“I love Buckhannon and the area,” he said. “My kids are growing, and it is very hard to be away from them. They continue to grow and when you are away, things happen, and you miss those little things – things pop up while you are away.”

He said he wants folks to remember there are lots of service members serving overseas.

“Definitely, even though just a small portion of our society are serving overseas, remember there are a lot of folks who are away from their families,” Michael Hildreth said. “The holidays are coming up – that’s why I like a lot of those organizations like the USO and Operation Gratitude. Those organizations are huge morale boosters while you are deployed. It’s nice to get a little piece of home every once in awhile. I got a box that had Girl Scout Cookies, and it was great.”

“I’m glad to see daddy home,” Kara said with a huge smile.