BATTLE GROUND — For a soldier with an "Old Ironsides" patch on his shoulder, Jared Euan was a pretty soft touch Wednesday morning when his little sister jumped into his arms and gave him a big hug.
Right in the middle of band class.
They hadn't seen each other since Thanksgiving, when Euan left for a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division.
So, Jade Horton had a good supply of welcome-home hugs when her big brother walked into her classroom at Daybreak Middle School.
And for their mother, Tracy Horton, the fifth-grade girl had this stern judgment: "You tricked me, Mom!"
The smile on the Battle Ground woman's face seemed to be an acknowledgement of guilty as charged.
Jade knew that her brother was back in the United States after his deployment, and had returned to Fort Bliss, Texas, where the 1st Armored — nicknamed "Old Ironsides" — is stationed.
But her mom was a little evasive about when Euan could come home on leave.
The Daybreak fifth-grader was figuring that "he might come back in October," Jade said.
Euan (pronounced "ewen") had something to do with the surprise, which was a family production. Tracy Horton said her own mother came up with the notion of the unannounced arrival. And Euan proposed the classroom setting when he came home on leave.
"I'd seen it on TV and on YouTube, and I wanted it for her," the soldier said.
Daybreak Middle School band teacher George Izzett, a retired U.S. Army captain, was happy to host the homecoming.
Euan, a 2010 graduate of Battle Ground High School, is an infantryman who served in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province. In a recent story, The Associated Press referred to Kandahar as "the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban."
Euan said the opportunities he's gotten and the relationships he's forged led him to recently re-enlist for four more years.
The 21-year-old Army specialist was a soccer player at Battle Ground, but being in shape and being a soldier are different things, he said.
As an athlete, he was accustomed to running. However, "I didn't expect the weight" that goes with infantry missions, he said.
It started with a basic load of 70 pounds. Add a weapon and ammunition, plus body armor — including ballistic underwear — and the load approaches 100 pounds.
So, Euan did some bulking up himself. The unit they replaced had set up a small gym, he said. After coming back from patrols, Euan and his comrades lifted weights to work off the stress, he said.
He's 200 pounds now. Marveled his mother: "He's huge."
That sort of observation can work both ways when you haven't seen a loved one in a while. Later, Euan had a chance to set the flat of his hand atop his sister's pig-tailed head.
As he gauged how much she's grown, Euan remarked: "What happened to this little girl?"