SOUTH ELGIN – T.J. Gleason had been counting down the days until his dad was to return home from a tour with the Army National Guard.
Students in T.J.’s kindergarten class at Corron Elementary School in South Elgin each chose a project to recognize 100 days of school, and T.J. chose to count down the last 100 days before his dad, Sgt. 1st Class Tim Gleason, returned home.
Little did the 5-year-old know that a whole slew of people, including school staff, Warriors’ Watch Riders, police and fire departments and family members, were planning a big surprise for him Wednesday, which also happened to be Tim Gleason’s birthday.
T.J.’s classroom countdown chart was slightly altered without him knowing, so he believed he would have to wait four more days to see his dad, who had been gone since June 4, 2012. The entire school gathered outside Wednesday to greet a motorcade, which included a van with writing on the window that read, “Move over! Our daddy is coming home!”
To T.J.’s surprise, his dad stepped out of the van. Moments later, T.J. had his arms wrapped around his dad’s neck and gave him a long welcome home hug.
When asked how he felt when he saw his dad, T.J. said, “Excited, and I cannot believe it.”
Tim Gleason, who lives in South Elgin, was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd dressed in red, white and blue, waving American flags and cheering “U-S-A!” Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Warriors’ Watch Riders and the entire student body and school staff lined the circle drive in front of the school, many holding welcome home signs.
“It’s absolutely just overwhelming,” Tim Gleason said. “It’s nice to get back.”
T.J.’s kindergarten teacher, Jodi Christiansen, said her class made American flags and presented them to Tim Gleason at the end of a brief ceremony in front of the school.
Christiansen said Tim Gleason had visited her class during Veterans Day through video streamed over the Internet.
“We feel extremely blessed to have an amazing soldier like him serving,” Christiansen said. “Mrs. Gleason is absolutely a hero, too.”
Tim Gleason, who has been in the Army National Guard for 20 years, said he’s looking forward to catching up with his family now that he’s home.
T.J. is the oldest of Tim and Katie Gleason’s four children. Katie Gleason said they wanted to surprise T.J. because he has been affected the most by his dad’s absence.
“I was nervous and excited,” she said about the surprise, which she helped orchestrate. “T.J. had to be such a brave little dude. ... I just let them have their moment.”
During a short ceremony, Bob “R&R” Himber with the Warriors’ Watch Riders motorcade presented Tim Gleason with mission beads, which represent different sacrifices soldiers and their families have made.
“We believe in giving our troops rock star treatment,” he said. “I think you got that today.”