Surprise homecoming: Seymour grad returns home from Kuwait

Sitting near the entrance to Seymour High School’s Bulleit Stadium, Sharon Townsend was oblivious to what was about to happen.

Over the loudspeaker during a high school track and field meet, everyone was asked to look at the center of the stadium for a special guest.

That’s when Sgt. E5 Lauren Townsend walked through the doors, wearing her military uniform and carrying a bouquet of yellow roses.

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When Sharon saw her daughter, she put her hands over her mouth in disbelief and gave Lauren a big hug. Then a few tears were shed.

Sharon said she had seen the videos on Facebook and television of soldiers surprising family members. She never knew something like that would happen to her.

“They said, ‘We have a special visitor,’ so I backed up thinking, ‘Oh, there’s somebody coming out here.’ I didn’t even think it was for me,” Sharon said.

She said she knew Lauren would be coming home from Kuwait sometime soon, but she didn’t know it was going to be Tuesday.

“It surprised me, but then it didn’t surprise me because that’s Lauren,” Sharon said. “She is full of surprises. That’s just her thing to do. She loves to surprise me.”

When Lauren was home in September 2016, she told her family she probably would be here again sometime in April.

Just recently, she told her mother she would be on the last flight home, which would put her back in Seymour at the end of this month.

She even posted pictures she had of herself in Kuwait on Facebook in recent days so her mother would think she’s still there. Sharon had commented on those asking when she would be home. Lauren’s reply was, “Soon.”

“I decided I wanted to do something for her and just completely be surprised,” Lauren said.

Seeing her mother’s reaction Tuesday night is a moment Lauren won’t forget.

“I was just so excited because I knew she had no idea that I was home, so it was an exciting feeling that I could do something to surprise her,” Lauren said.

After graduating from Seymour High School in 2006, Lauren went to Purdue University for a year, but she said it didn’t really work out the way she wanted.

She said she had thought about the military over the years, so that’s the route she chose.

In 2007, she joined the U.S. Army and decided to focus on communications, mainly working with radios, antennas and computers.

“At the time I joined, that’s what they were offering the biggest bonus for,” she said of communications.

She did four years of active duty, including being deployed to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. That’s one of the last deployments that was a year long, as the Army switched to nine-month stints, she said.

At the end of active duty, Lauren moved back in with her mother in Seymour and joined the Indiana Army National Guard. She had to spend one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year with the National Guard. She did that at the Franklin armory for a while before being promoted to Lawrence.

Lauren’s second deployment started in October 2015. After nine months, she chose to stay in Kuwait with a unit that replaced her original unit.

While Lauren was serving, she and her mother could communicate using an app called WhatsApp, which can be used to talk, text or videochat.

Sharon said one tricky part with that was when the time changed here, there was an eight-hour time difference in Kuwait.

“She would either be getting ready for bed or I would just be getting up,” Sharon said. “The time difference was the biggest problem, but we worked it out.”

During Lauren’s deployments, Sharon said she had mixed emotions.

“When she went this last time, I said, ‘I’m really proud of you,’ but as a mom, I don’t want her to be overseas, especially with all of the turmoil,” Sharon said.

Before Lauren left for Kuwait, Sharon said she was at Starbucks in Columbus and saw a soldier and thanked him for his service. She told him her daughter was going to Camp Buehring in Kuwait.

“He said, ‘Oh, she’ll be fine. That place is great. It’s like a spa compared to a lot of other places,’” Sharon said. “I knew she was going to be safe, but your kid is out of the states, so you still worry. I worried about her, but the world has gotten so small with the internet now that it’s a lot different than when they deployed in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘80s even, so it has always felt like she was still here.”

Lauren has lived in Long Beach, California, for a couple of years, and she starts a new job in information technology Monday.

She also plans on continuing to serve with the California Army National Guard.

“I’ve already been in (the military) 10 years. I might as well do another 10, and then at least get a partial retirement,” she said.

Lauren said the military has had a very big impact on her life, and she’s a big supporter of it.

Any time she is in uniform and someone thanks her for her service and expresses interest in joining the military, she encourages them.

“I’m all for anyone that wants to join the military because of us being a volunteer force now,” she said. “Of course, I always try and advocate for the Army, but if you’re volunteering to join the military, I appreciate anyone that gives up their time to join any branch.”

Sharon said she admires her daughter for her service.

“She’s a really special girl,” Sharon said. “She has a heart of gold. She would give you her right arm if she could.”