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SCHOOLS | South Colby sisters receive surprising visit

Nine-year-old Kylie, right, and Rhiannon, 7, greet their father, Jesse Chapman, who was stationed on the USS John C. Stennis since September in the Middle East, during a surprise visit Tuesday at South Colby Elementary School. - Dannie Oliveaux/Staff Photo
Nine-year-old Kylie, right, and Rhiannon, 7, greet their father, Jesse Chapman, who was stationed on the USS John C. Stennis since September in the Middle East, during a surprise visit Tuesday at South Colby Elementary School.
— image credit: Dannie Oliveaux/Staff Photo

South Colby second- and fourth-grade students gathered in music teacher Lisa Mills’ classroom, confident that they were there to honor her as the elementary school’s masonic educator of the year.

That is where the surprise came in.

About 20 minutes into the Tuesday afternoon class, Jesse Chapman, who has been stationed on the USS John C. Stennis since it left Bremerton in August for the Middle East, walked through the door.

“Holy cow,” said his daughter, 9-year-old Kylie.

Kylie and her 7-year-old sister, Rhiannon, then embraced their father as the elder sister cried before cameras.

“I thought it was a dream,” Kylie said.

Rhiannon also admitted to being shocked, but said she did not want to be as outwardly emotional as her sister.

“If this is on the news, I don’t want to be crying on TV,” she said.

Neither sister was aware that their father was returning home, but Rhiannon said she dreamed about the possibility Monday night.

“That’s the way it always happens on the TV shows,” she said.

Chapman, 31, a 2000 North Kitsap High School graduate, said he was not aware that he would be returning home until recently. He contacted his wife, Kristin, last week to coordinate a plan where he would arrive at the school during the afternoon and take his daughters out for ice cream. That changed when his wife contacted Mills, whose father also served in the military.

South Colby principal Brian Pickard said that Mills teaches second graders during that time, but she occasionally invites older students into the classroom to serve as mentors. Because of that, Pickard said none of the students were suspicious.

“It set that hook a little deeper,” he said.

Mills’ fourth graders worked with their younger peers on naming the parts of a six-string guitar. Chapman’s daughters, both of whom wore red, white and blue bows in their hair, teamed up. They began attending South Colby at the beginning of the school year when Chapman, a sonar technician chief, was reassigned to Naval Base Kitsap. Four weeks after arriving, Chapman headed out to the Middle East.

He said his biggest fear about returning was how his daughters would react. Chapman said he has heard stories where children were angry when their fathers came home from the service. His fears quickly were alleviated.

“I was just extremely happy,” he said. “Seeing Kylie cry made it difficult for me not to do it.”

Chapman, who arrived in his military uniform, plans to take his daughters to watch “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3” during the upcoming week. They also asked him to construct a tepee in their backyard. Chapman had just one request before any of that starts.

“I just want to go home and get this uniform off,” he said.

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