National Guardsman surprises son at school with ‘birthday party’ (+video and photos)

ccope@thestate.comJanuary 30, 2014 

— Eight-year-old Jorden Mims didn’t want to go to school Thursday after spending Wednesday playing in the snow. But shortly after lunchtime, there was likely no place he would rather have been.

Jorden couldn’t stop smiling when his dad, Sgt. Steven Mims, surprised him by returning home from being deployed in Afghanistan for close to a year.

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Jorden had no idea his dad was coming home this week, expecting him instead in February. He thought, like his fellow third-graders at Herbert A. Wood Elementary School in West Columbia, he was attending an assembly for patriotism. Each kid had been given an American flag, and some answered questions about the branches of government and military. They all recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

And then Mims, an S.C. National Guard soldier, walked through the cafeteria doors, holding birthday balloons and searching the crowd of students looking for Jorden.

Mims had left for his deployment in the early-morning hours of his son’s birthday in April – missing Jorden’s bowling party. But that was made up on Thursday when Mims returned for a celebration complete with a birthday cake.

The third-graders sang “Happy Birthday” to Jorden, keeping with the theme of making up for the only birthday Steven Mims has missed, despite having served two other deployments.

After the surprise, Jorden grinned and clung to his dad, speechless as he absorbed the moment.

When someone asked if Jorden could let go of his father, he shook his head no.

Mims pointed out that his son had gotten taller in the nearly 10 months since he had seen him.

A long 10 months for Jorden’s parents.

“That’s been overwhelming because he has juvenile diabetes,” said Jorden’s mom, Michelle Mims.

She had to take care of Jorden’s medical needs by herself. Overseas, Steven Mims constantly worried about his son’s blood-sugar levels.

Steven Mims said he also missed other aspects of his son’s life in the past year, such as watching him play sports, and he hoped to not be deployed again in the near future.

That should be made easier as the war in Afghanistan comes to a close this year and the vast majority of soldiers return home.

The Mims’ reunion was supposed to take place Wednesday, but it was delayed by the snow day that canceled school.

On Wednesday, as Jorden had a snowball fight and played on a slippery trampoline with a friend, his dad was hiding out with a relative to keep his homecoming a secret. But even though he was back in town, it still wasn’t like being home, Steven Mims said.

After the surprise, Mims was finally able to have his family complete again. “Let’s just hope that there is nothing else to pull me away,” he said.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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