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LEHI — An airman who came home a week early after a six-month deployment to Afghanistan came up with an elaborate plan to surprise each of his girls in a carefully orchestrated series of events Thursday.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Edward Goettig had an army of people to help him pull off his most important mission yet: “Operation Surprise.”
His first stop from the airport was Lehi High School, where he wore the Pioneer Pete mascot suit to surprise his 16-year-old sophomore daughter, Bailee.
In the cafeteria, during what everyone thought was a pep rally, he gave high-fives to students, passed out candy and posed for photos. He even stood right in front of his daughter and waved to her and the other students. Being so close to Bailee, Goettig resisted the urge to hug her.
“I wanted to go grab her and give her a big hug, and I knew I couldn't do it yet,” he said.
Then the mascot’s mask came off. As soon as she realized who the mascot was, she screamed with joy and ran into his arms.
“I was so surprised,” Bailee said afterward. “My friends told me to come to the lunchroom, and I thought it was to meet a friend or something.”
Now with Bailee joining the force, the next stop was Lehi Junior High, where 14-year-old Sydney was called to the principal's office. The mission was nearly foiled as the eighth-grader started walking down the hallway too soon. Disaster was averted, and when she walked backed into the classroom, it took her a moment to notice someone was sitting in her desk.
Her father looked at her and said, “Hi.” Then she ran to him and hugged him while he laughed at her reaction.
“I had no clue,” the 14-year-old said. “I was really surprised.”
Now the toughest part of the mission: two daughters at Fox Hollow Elementary School.
The first stop was Addie's sixth-grade class, which came together for a patriotic assembly. She led the group in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Then a special speaker came out from behind a curtain. Addie’s jaw dropped. She ran to her dad and started crying as she hugged him.
“I was like, 'It must be a really big deal 'cause if they are opening up the curtain, it must be really big,” the 11-year-old said.
The last stop in “Operation Surprise” was a special present for Olivia, who was celebrating her 10th birthday Thursday. Not only did the fourth grade sing to her on her birthday, there was a big box in wrapping paper for her on the stage.
As she opened the big red box, her father, who was hiding inside, said, “Surprise! Happy Birthday!”
Tears of joy came down Olivia's face as she hugged her dad.
When asked what she thought was in the box, she said, “Something small since it is such a big box.”
Wife Tracie Goettig orchestrated Thursday's mission flawlessly, with the help of many people at each of the schools.
“I wanted to be able to let each child have their own special reunion with their daddy,” Goettig said. “It’s hard, hard, hard to keep such a big secret from family and friends. Each child, it’s fun to watch them react. It’s just priceless — absolutely priceless.”
Once “Operation Surprise” was over, the family left Fox Hollow Elementary School to start celebrating the homecoming and Olivia's birthday.