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A daddy and a soldier

Spc. Danny Sawyer hugs his daughter Brenna, 5, in her class at Hickory Grove-Sharon Elementary School on Wednesday. Sawyer, who is in the Army, hadn't seen his family since December and surprised his daughter with the visit.
Spc. Danny Sawyer hugs his daughter Brenna, 5, in her class at Hickory Grove-Sharon Elementary School on Wednesday. Sawyer, who is in the Army, hadn't seen his family since December and surprised his daughter with the visit.

SHARON -- Danny Sawyer at 6 foot-plus and 200 pounds-plus walked through the elementary school hallway in an Army uniform. He should have felt like he could by himself knock al-Qaida for a loop. But he was nervous. He held the hand of his 2-year-old-son, Brice, but he had sweat on his forehead.

Brenna, his kindergarten daughter at Sharon-Hickory Grove Elementary School, is 5 years old. She's old enough to know that with the exception of a few days around Christmas, her father had been gone for seven months training before he ships off to Iraq.

"I hope she recognizes me," Sawyer said.

Sawyer, 32, is like countless military men and women who face deployment overseas. Each must find a way to get family taken care of. Each must figure out how those kids will get picked up, dropped off, the bills paid, the grass cut, the homework done.

Erin, Sawyer's wife, has had to handle it all for months.

This week, Danny and Erin Sawyer have to move everything they own, their whole life and their two kids, to his base in Colorado before he leaves in June for more than year in Iraq.

Yet, Spc. Sawyer is different than so many soldiers. He enlisted in the Army out of high school and already served a stretch in the Middle East after the first Iraq War. He spent eight years in the service, rose to the rank of sergeant. Then, he tried civilian life. Last year, Sawyer enlisted all over again. He had to start near the bottom again.

"It's a cliché, but it is true, freedom isn't free," Sawyer said. "Everybody pays the price. It'll get worse when I leave for Iraq. It's tough on soldiers' families."

Sawyer was sent off last year for special training in communications and computers. The only time he came home was around Christmas when his cousin, an Iraq War veteran from Fort Lawn in Chester County named Charlie Messer, who was recovering from combat injuries suffered in a bomb attack in Iraq, died in a car crash in Texas.

I met Sawyer after Messer's death. Sawyer had told Charlie Messer what he would see in war. That day, Messer's parents told me how Charlie Messer idolized his older cousin, Danny Sawyer, the Army veteran.

It didn't help Danny Sawyer as he walked down that hall Wednesday, worrying about his family and his family worrying about him, that Wednesday would have been Charlie Messer's 21st birthday.

Sawyer stopped at his house first Wednesday after getting his leave for a few days. Brice, the 2-year-old, walked out the door and looked up and said, "There's my daddy."

Sawyer, Erin and Brice rushed to the school. They arrived a couple minutes before noon.

The ladies in the school office were all excited about Sawyer's surprise visit to the school, an intrusion -- really a reunion -- that now almost the whole school except one class knew about.

That's when Sawyer was nervous in that hallway, walking toward a daughter who had barely seen him in months.

So, Sawyer walked into Leslie Bennett's kindergarten class with his eyes dancing and his nerves jangling. He was inside about a second when the only word that ever matters between fathers and daughters erupted into the stillness.

"Daddy!"

Then, Brenna ran into her fathers arms. He scooped her up as Derek Jeter handles a hot shot into the hole at shortstop, and he hugged her tight. Brenna kissed her father and buried her face in his big, thick, Army neck.

Somehow, in this war that seems like it will never end, with a June flight for Iraq looming, on the birthday of his kid cousin who wanted to be like him then was wounded in Iraq and died afterward, war for Danny Sawyer was forgotten for just a split second.

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