A student discussion about the war in Afghanistan took an unexpected turn Monday morning when Staff Sgt. Nathan Carrico walked into the classroom, surprising his daughter with a homecoming she wasn't expecting for another month.
Courtnee Carrico, 12, thought her father was coming home in April after a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. He visited her class at Mount Logan Middle School as part of a surprise planned - and kept secret - by family members and Courtnee's teacher, Pam Spindler.
After seeing her dad, Courtnee said, "I was, like, excited and shocked at the same time."
Nathan said he is "really happy to be home."
In Spindler's class, students review current events. As part of that discussion Monday, class members welcomed guest speaker Ryan Larsen, a urologist at Cache Valley Specialty Hospital who has been around the world on medical missions.
He asked students if any had family who served overseas. Courtnee raised her hand and said her father was in the Army offering medical services in Afghanistan. She told Larsen he would be home in April. To that, Larsen replied, "It would be awesome if he were here talking to you instead of me, wouldn't it?"
Larsen asked all the students to close their eyes and imagine what Nathan was doing in Afghanistan. As kids sat with their eyes closed, Larsen told them that one day, Nathan would return home.
"It's going to be such a neat experience," he said.
As Larsen said that, Nathan walked into the classroom and tapped his daughter on the shoulder. She opened her eyes and the two shared a tearful embrace.
"I've missed you," Courtnee told her dad.
The surprise was planned by Courtnee's twin brother, Brandon.
"My sister, she's really attached to my dad," he said.
Courtnee said she didn't have any idea this was being planned. It was a secret Brandon and others had to keep for months. Jacqueline Carrico, Nathan's wife of a year and a half, said they led Courtnee to believe Nathan was still coming home in April.
"We started not telling the truth about two months ago," she said.
Nathan arrived in the United States about a week ago. Jacqueline traveled to Washington to see Nathan, but to keep the surprise under wraps, she told Courtnee she was in Denver on a business trip. When Nathan arrived in Logan, Brandon got to see him Sunday at a motel, where Nathan spent the night, so Courtnee wouldn't know he was back.
Brandon said he was excited to do this for his sister.
"On the inside, I'm very excited. I want to jump up and just start crying," Brandon said Monday morning, speaking before his dad's arrival at Mount Logan. "He's my dad, and I haven't seen him in a year."
Brandon and Jacqueline were in Spindler's class Monday.
Nathan took some questions and spoke briefly about his experiences in Afghanistan. He said he treated more than 400 causalities while he was there, serving as part of a medical unit. The facility where he worked was described as "the front line." Courtnee said that as she sat with her eyes closed, she pictured her dad helping little kids, something Jacqueline said Nathan did a lot.
Jacqueline called her husband "a true hero." She said she appreciates everyone who supported the family. Being separated is hard, she said, and she couldn't have done it without the help of others.
Nathan and Jacqueline work together at Cache Valley Specialty Hospital as operating room technicians. Both are in the Army Reserves.
Jacqueline was thrilled and relieved at Nathan's arrival home.
"Every minute of every day you worry. You worry that the reason you're going to be interviewed is because they didn't make it home, not because they did, and it's in the back of your mind. You definitely don't say anything to the kids, but it's always there," she said.
Jacqueline said she was still feeling some shock after everything, but they were all happy.
"We pulled it off," she said.