FARMINGTON — Pfc. Jeremy Henderson was expecting to surprise his mother who didn't know her soldier son had returned early from a deployment to Afghanistan.
He didn't realize a crowd of friends and family members was waiting to surprise him with a homecoming celebration.
Henderson, an Army airborne combat engineer with the 919th Engineer Support Company based at Fort Bragg, N.C., was escorted on Tuesday by Farmington and San Juan County emergency crews from McGee Park to his mother Kathi Henderson's place of employment at Basin Home Health on Orchard Avenue.
"I thought I was coming here to surprise my mom, and it turns out, I probably got a better surprise," Jeremy Henderson said.
Members of organizations that included the Blue Star Mothers, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2182, Disabled Veterans Administration and New Mexico National Guard joined friends and family to cheer as Henderson jumped out of his car and hugged his mother.
"I was so surprised. He was supposed to be in on Thursday. That was the plan, and I was totally taken by surprise," Kathi Henderson said. "My family and my husband totally pulled this off."
Jeremy Henderson had been serving in an Afghanistan forward operating base since October 2012, said his father Steve Henderson, who gathered the crowd at Orchard Park a block away for his son's arrival.
"He was there to fight a war, and I can't imagine what that would be like," Steve Henderson said.
During his deployment, Jeremy Henderson's wife, Haley, gave birth to his second son Colter. Henderson was able to see the delivery through video chat and met Colter in July after returning to the United States.
Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts and Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein spoke at the homecoming. They expressed gratitude for Henderson's service overseas and presented him with letters on behalf of the citizens of both cities.
"We just want to tell you we appreciate your sacrifice and the effort to protect the freedoms that some of us take for granted too often," Roberts said.
Henderson said he wanted to surprise his mother because she had worried about him for nine months and he wanted to her to know that it's now all OK.
"He was always thoughtful of me," Kathi Henderson said. "He's the youngest of six (children) but he always has been big and strong ... he's the most caring son anyone could have."
Jim Rixon, a VFW Post 2182 member, said it was important to let returning veterans know the country supports them.
"We're honoring a young man for serving his country, and, at the same time, being here for the reunion with his mom, can't get more personal than that," Rixon said.
After posing for pictures and talking with his crowd of well-wishers, Jeremy Henderson was still in shock from the surprise homecoming celebration.
"It was crazy. I had no idea it was this big," he said. "I had no idea the support level was still this big, and it makes me feel a little hope again."