Soldier surprise closes one chapter, opens another

The Jenkins Family

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s a homecoming more than a decade in the making. Monday, Staff Sergeant Andrew Jenkins came back from serving our country for good, surprising his three children at school.

Staff Sgt. Jenkins joined the Army in 2002
Staff Sgt. Jenkins joined the Army in 2002

A Fort Wayne native, Jenkins answered the call to serve right after graduating from Snider High School in 2002.

“All of the men in my family have served from WWI all the way up until now. I wanted to do something that most people don’t want any part of. I mean, nobody wants to go deploy and possibly die,” Jenkins said. “I just wanted to take a different direction with my life and try to make a difference. 9/11 just happened, and I just felt called to join.”

Jenkins met his wife, Aimmie, in the service. She served as a sergeant in the Army and a Petty Officer 2nd Class in the Navy before retiring in 2006.

Jenkins, and his wife, Aimmie, after his final deployment
Jenkins, and his wife, Aimmie, after his final deployment

“I know what it feels like. I know the sense of pride you have when you put on that uniform,” Aimmie Jenkins said.

Andrew Jenkins deployed overseas four times, spending three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Each time meant another round of goodbyes to his bride and babies.

“Walking away from my kids and watching them cry every time I had to walk away is heartbreaking. It really is, it was almost worse than being deployed,” Jenkins said.

For the last three years, Jenkins has called Fort Benning in Georgia home. There, he taught civilians how to be soldiers. Now, he’s trading in the camouflage for the comfort no job can provide.

“I think today was the most surreal day, putting on my uniform for the last time was really hard for me, just because this is all we as a family have ever known. Knowing that it’s coming to an end is kind of scary, but there are possibilities now that it’s coming to an end where we can actually be a whole family. It’s a huge step for us, and I think we’re all ready to move on to that chapter of our lives,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins' daughter, Chloie, during his third tour to Iraq
Jenkins’ daughter, Chloie, during his third tour to Iraq

The uniform that always meant goodbye is now symbolic of a future spent together.

“We always told the kids you will know that daddy will be home for good when he comes to your school in uniform,” Aimmie said.

After spending a weekend at home, the three kids said goodbye to Andrew Monday morning, thinking he would go back to Georgia just like every other visit home. Monday afternoon, the promise their mom made all of those years ago was fulfilled. Jenkins surprised Andy Jr. first at Blackhawk Middle School, then headed for Haley Elementary to surprise daughters, McKenna and Chloie.

“I was just filled with joy. I knew that this was going to be the day when it was over, when everything was perfectly normal like a new family pretty much,” Andy Jr. said. “He’s just like the best dad in the world for being there for us when we need him most.”

After so many goodbyes, it’s these hellos that open up a world of firsts.

The Jenkins welcome home Andrew from Iraq
The Jenkins welcome home Andrew from Iraq

“It’s the sacrifice you have to make, but there comes a point where your family needs more, and that’s where I’m at right now. My family needs more out of me than the military can provide. That’s why I’m willing to do whatever it takes to lead this family spiritually, mentally, physically, and be the father that they need and be the husband that she needs,” Jenkins said. “Four was enough for me and it’s time I can be home to focus on my babies and my wife because they need me and I need them.”

From Girl Scouts to birthdays to holidays to first days of school, so many moments sacrificed for our country during its time of need. Now, the man who served our country during its time of need can focus on serving the wife and kids who need him most.

“I want to thank God and my family, my wife for getting us through as a family. It’s important that we always remember those that didn’t make it and those that we lost along the way because they are the true heroes, not me. Some of those people, I will never forget and we wear the bracelets for a reason. It’s for the people we will never forget. I’m just lucky and blessed,” Jenkins said.

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