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Military father surprises sons at Mitchell elementary school

Jerry Axsom, of Mitchell, hugs his sons Kaden, 10 (left), and Xavier, 5 (middle), and nephew Kobi Lutjens, 9, during a surprise reunion Thursday at John Paul II Elementary School in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic) 1 / 3
Jerry Axsom, of Mitchell, hugs his son Kaden, 10, during a surprise reunion Thursday at John Paul II Elementary School in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic) 2 / 3
Jerry Axsom, of Mitchell, holds the hand of his son Xavier, 5, during a surprise assembly at John Paul II elementary school Thursday afternoon in Mitchell. Axsom who serves in the U.S. Navy reserves was deployed to Afghanistan was not expected to return home till next month surprised the boys with the help of the school. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)3 / 3

The holidays came early Thursday for Kaden and Xavier Axsom, of Mitchell.

In what was probably the best show-and-tell ever, the boys got to show off their dad, Petty Officer 1st Class Gerald “Jerry” Axsom — but only after being surprised by his unexpected appearance at a Thursday afternoon school assembly at John Paul II Elementary School in Mitchell.

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As part of Book It, a reading incentive program, Kaden, 10, and Xavier, 5, and about 200 fellow students were enjoying a reading by school principal Robin Cahoy of the book “My Dad’s A Hero,” which deals with families with members in the armed forces. As part of the presentation, Cahoy asked kids who had relatives in the military to come to the front of the room.

Half the room came forward. Cahoy whittled the list down to kids with dads serving in the military until only the Axsom boys and their cousin, Kobi, 9, remained.

That’s when Axsom, 37, made his appearance wearing desert camo fatigues. Stunned disbelief soon gave way to hugs and cheers.

“I think it’s cool, because he came home early,” said Kaden, a fourth-grader. “I was expecting him to come home in November.”

“I was surprised,” said Xavier, a kindergartener. Asked of his plans, he said, “To probably play with my dad.”

Axsom, a corpsman with the Navy Reserves, deployed last March with Naval Mobile Construction

Battalion 15 to Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, where he tended to the medical needs of Seabees and Marines attached to the unit.

“We saw action and I took care of some people,” he said matter-of-factly. At times, heat in the desert climate soared to 142 degrees in August, he said.

Thursday’s setup was a month in preparation, said Jerry’s wife, Kathy, who works locally for the Brian Graves Agency. Jerry arrived in Sioux Falls on Wednesday night, she said, and she spirited him home for a private reunion while sister-in-law Kerri Lutjens played babysitter.

“It’s awesome to have him home,” Kathy Axsom said. “It was very nice to have some time to get reacquainted.”

Like many military spouses, Kathy Axom served in her own way.

“Everyday life has been hard,” she said, “even to just keeping the boys busy.”

During the long months overseas, Jerry Axom used Skype webcam services to stay in touch with his kids.

Thursday, it didn’t hold a candle to the real thing.