Operation: Homecoming

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Soldier surprises family during school assembly

By Meaghan Downs

The Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg’s school photo needed one more person.
Not another teacher or a student.
It needed Ashley Elliott’s husband, Staff Sgt. Colby Elliott.
Ashley, an instructor at the Academy, believed she was picking her husband up in Frankfort later that afternoon after his debriefing. After being deployed to Afghanistan in January with the National Guard, Colby was finally coming home from his third tour of duty.
The Elliott family reunion came a little earlier than expected.
Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg Principal Steve Carmichael staged a fake assembly last Wednesday morning with this plot: a photographer from The Anderson News was coming in to take a photo for the Academy’s upcoming special section (disclosure: the newspaper’s staff writer knew of Carmichael’s true intent for the assembly).   
The real story: Carmichael would make a remark about something “missing” from the photo, and Colby would appear on cue in the Academy’s gym to surprise his family.
Once Carmichael assembled the Academy’s faculty and staff, he mentioned something or someone was “missing” from the photo, as planned.
In walked Colby, and the school erupted in cheers and applause. Ashley’s hands flew up to cover her face. Colby’s daughter Brette, a Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg student, ran across the gym to tackle her dad in a hug.
More than a few Academy staff and friends of the Elliotts wiped tears from their eyes.
“When Colby walked into the gym, I have never been so shocked in my life,” Ashley said via e-mail, adding that everyone from her best friend to fellow teachers were in on the big homecoming surprise. “I can’t even put into words what I felt. It was a flood of emotions ... happiness, excitement and relief that he was home safe and this deployment was finally over and I felt a love from a group of people that was overwhelming.
“To know that everyone in the school dropped what they were doing to help make this day special for our family was something that we will never forget.”
The family’s plans now that Colby is back? This weekend Colby got to play video games with his son Gabe and attended a corn hole tournament at the Academy with his daughter Brette, Ashley said.
“Our plans are simple … all we want is to be a family again,” Ashley said. “It’s the little things that we take for granted that you figure out mean the most during deployments.”