Beacon Journal staff writer
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Darrell Stamps Sr. bought a plane ticket on Tuesday in Washington state and arrived around midnight so he could walk his 5-year-old son to school in Akron.
The surprise visit was spurred by the boy's mother, Raina Stamps, who called Sgt. Stamps about a week ago to tell him about the Third Annual Fathers Walk held Wednesday. The event, involving most Akron elementary schools as well as other schools in Summit, Medina and Stark counties, asks dads to walk their children to school.
She asked Stamps if he could ask his father, also named Darrell Stamps, to accompany his grandson on the Fathers Walk.
''Once I was able to get the time to come, I just kind of told my dad, 'I've got it' and I kind of popped up on everybody at the last minute,'' said Sgt. Stamps, who is stationed at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, southwest of Tacoma.
His son didn't expect him.
''I just saw him when he came in the house,'' said Darrell Stamps Jr. of his dad's unexpected arrival at home.
The pair set out for Portage Path elementary school from the house on Hollinger Avenue where the sergeant grew up with his grandmother and attended Portage Path when he was a boy.
His grandmother has since moved, but the neighborhood brought back memories.
He asked his son about what he was learning in kindergarten.
Darrell Jr. said they were playing a computer game to match pictures to sounds.
''Where's the playground at? I know you know where that's at,'' his father asked as they approached the new Portage Path elementary school that opened this fall.
''It's in the back,'' Darrell Jr. said.
The last time the sergeant had been in Akron, the old Portage Path that he had attended from kindergarten through fourth grade was about to be torn down.
Other fathers were walking their kids to school, too, but the sergeant - wearing a dress blue uniform with stripes, badges and service ribbons - turned some heads on the way.
When they arrived at the school, they were mobbed by kids excited to see a man in uniform.
''Cool,'' one boy yelled. ''It's an Army father! It's the Army! The Army!''
The Army father signed a clipboard along with the other dads and waited to go inside.
While fielding questions from eager children, he kneeled down to wipe something from his son's eyes.
Sgt. Stamps, who is 27, calls Akron his hometown. His family members all live here, including his father, who is the supervisor of Operation Neat Streets, a Downtown Akron Partnership sidewalk sweeping program.
Stamps has another son who is 4. Although he is divorced, he has stayed involved in his children's lives.
''We talk on the phone all the time,'' he said. ''More than I fly here, they fly out to see me and stay with me for a while.''
That's not easy to do when he is deployed.
Sgt. Stamps, who is assigned to the HHC (Headquarters and Headquarters Company) 1-17 Infantry, was deployed to Iraq for the initial 2003 invasion and returned to Iraq two years later.
''I was a reconnaissance squad leader,'' he said.
His latest deployment was for a year in Afghanistan starting in July 2009. About halfway through that mission, he was allowed to come back to Fort Lewis to spend Thanksgiving with his sons.
''They flew out to Washington to have Thanksgiving dinner with me,'' Stamps said. ''I see them every opportunity I can.''
He said he was grateful that his commanders gave him the time off.
''We just got back from deployment and a lot of the military's focus now is that once you come back from deployment is to spend as much time with your family as you can,'' Stamps said.
''Once I told them what the situation was and what the event was, they were all too happy to give me the opportunity to come and just enjoy some time with my children.''