ROCKINGHAM — Carlie Thompson, a kindergartner at Washington Street Elementary School, got the surprise of her life Wednesday when her mother, Air Force Master Sgt. Cheasa Crump, showed up for the awards day assembly.
Crump, whose unit is based at Pope Airfield, had been stationed in Germany and was not expected to be home until later in the week.
“She thought I was coming home on Friday,” Crump said. “We’ve been doing the 120 kisses, so we did a kiss a day using Hershey’s Kisses in a jar. It’s something military families do when a parent has spend a year away. It helps her to count down how many days until I would get home.”
Carlie’s jar began with 120 kisses — one for every day of Crump’s four months in Ramstein, Germany. She still had two kisses left to go before Crump returned.
“Most of the time we were able to keep in touch,” Crump said. “When she got her kiss each day, we could Facetime.”
The students and staff at Washington Street were sitting in the gymnasium watching the stage and listening to the principal introduce special guests — including Superintendent Dr. Cindy Goodman — when Crump emerged from a backstage door.
“Does anybody know who that is?” asked Principal Angela Watkins.
Surprised students cheered as Crump walked toward the center of the stage wearing her flight suit, but one voice drowned them out.
“Mommy!” shouted Carlie before she climbed up onto the stage.
Crump swept Carlie up and hugged her. A moment later, her niece, Caydence Crump, also ran up on stage to embrace her returning aunt.
“She was supposed to come back Friday,” Carlie said, adding that she missed her mother while she was away.
The 5-year-old sat in her mother’s lap, getting real kisses through most of the rest of the assembly.
During the deployment, Carlie stayed with her great-aunt, Sallie Patterson.
“It’s been a journey,” Patterson said. “I’m going to miss my little niece, but it’s time for her and her mother to be reunited. I’m glad God kept her safe.”
While overseas, Cheasa Crump completed her master’s degree in health administration with a concentration in human resource management. She said she will be able to retire from the Air Force in two years, with 20 years of service.
“She’s one of my former students,” said music teacher Statha Osborne, who taught Crump at Hamlet Middle School. “I’m so proud of her, and what an honor it is to teach her daughter.”
Osborne said she teared up when the crowd gave Crump a standing ovation.
“We were just thrilled that we could celebrate with the family,” said Angela Watkins, the school’s principal.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.