JONESBORO, IL (KFVS) - Wednesday afternoon turned out to be a very special one for a soldier returning from the battlefields in Afghanistan, and the students at Jonesboro Elementary School.
They all came out to welcome home U.S. Army Specialist Jerod Schaefer.
As the sirens blared from the caravan escorting Schaefer through town and onto the school, the kids waved their flags and cheered his arrival.
And within seconds of stepping out of the car he was driving the hugs began, the first one from his grandmother.
Then it was a long awaited hug from his cousin Allison Toler.
"I just really missed him so much, it's unbelievable," said Allison. "And we're going to go riding four wheelers and everything else. And we're going to play in the dirt and go down the big hill and have some fun."
The ride is going to have to be on another day though because Specialist Schaefer had a few more kids to say hello too.
Along with dozens of requests for his autograph on the welcome home posters they made for him.
And he did just that as he made his way down the long line of kids high-fiving them and giving out a salute or two along the way to his fellow classmates.
Jerod attended classes at Jonesboro Elementary School as a kid.
"it's just a miracle to have him home," said Beverly Schaefer, Jerod's mother as she fought back tears."They all went over there and they all came home. That's just a blessing thank you."
Jerod and the kids have been exchanging letters and emails over the past year during his time in Afghanistan.
And he wanted to see them first as he made his way to his families home in Jonesboro.
"It's important to me because this is a part of my childhood. I went to this school from Kindergarten through the 8th Grade," said Specialist Schaefer. "I've lived my life in this town. I owe my life to this town. And I fight, and I will give my life gladly for this town."
Spec. Schaefer will be home for the next sixteen days, then he'll return to his duty station at Fort Hood in Texas. Then he'll transfer out to Fort Lewis in Washington for the remaining of his time in the U.S. Army
"Maybe I'll deploy again maybe not, it just depends on how the world goes. But I will be a soldier as long as I can. And I will do the best that I can."