Then in walked Warren -- Army Sgt. 1st Class Warren -- and one boy raised his voice.
"My dad!" shouted 9-year-old Jacob Warren. It was quiet then, and classmates saw a long, long hug.
When is it OK for a principal to tell a fib? It was more than all right Wednesday. The aim was an unforgettable moment for a boy whose father had been away two years serving his country.
"Is he really the guest teacher?" Jacob asked his real teacher, Katie Forbes.
Warren, 33, was quick to answer. "I'm not teaching anything," he quipped.
Forbes had cooked up the fill-in teacher story, telling her students she had an appointment Wednesday afternoon. She had known for a couple of weeks, from Jacob's mother, Jamie Warren, when the boy's father would be coming back.
A combat medic, Warren has been based for two years in Ansbach, Germany, with the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade. During that time, he served a tour in Afghanistan, his second there. And in 2006, he served in Iraq. He was last home for a weeklong visit a year ago.
Jacob said Wednesday he was long overdue for a favorite activity with his dad -- paintball. And he hoped to coax his father into joining him at Cub Scouts.
After showing up in Jacob's classroom, Warren headed to Lake Stevens Middle School to surprise his older son, 12-year-old Jeremy.
After nearly a dozen years in the Army, he'll be stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Jamie Warren lives with the couple's boys in Lake Stevens, and works at Home Depot in Snohomish.
"For me, the hardest thing has been to watch them miss him," she said. "It is much easier being here with the boys alone than being over there in danger and worrying about family, too."
She hadn't meant to interrupt her fourth- grader's afternoon at school.
"I just called and asked if we could come by at the end of class. Once he's seen his dad, there won't be much schoolwork done," Jamie Warren said.
Forbes, with Hillcrest Principal Steve Burleigh, arranged for the afternoon surprise. After the reunion, they let Jacob off for the rest of the day. "It's great to go spend some time with Dad," Forbes told him.
The Lake Stevens School District doesn't have a tally of students with deployed parents. Military families largely make up one whole neighborhood in the district.
"We've seen these kinds of stories before. It's a good reminder that this is still real for a lot of families," Burleigh said.
Through each deployment, Jamie Warren doesn't tell her boys exactly when their dad is due back. "I never tell them," she said. "What if he flew into Germany and the flight was delayed? You don't want to disappoint a child."
Tired from his 29-hour journey, Jesse Warren threw an arm around his 9-year-old's shoulders. "Let's go, Bubba," he said, and father and son walked toward the car.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
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