CHARLOTTE, N.C. On Monday night, like many Americans, the Jorgensen family was at home watching television. But a day earlier, Andrea, Joe, and their five young children had an experience unlike any other inside Bank of America Stadium in uptown Charlotte.
Back from a roughly 10-month stint in Iraq as part of the 18th Airborne Corps, Joe surprised his family before the Carolina Panthers game on Sunday afternoon.
Everyone talks about how the crowd went crazy, said Andrea. But I remember when I saw him it got really quiet. I didn t hear the crowd go crazy or anything like that. It just all of the sudden got really quiet to me. At first I didn t want to turn around and I turned around and all I saw was him.
In honor of Friday s Veterans Day Andrea and her five kids watched a video message from the Army captain recorded while he was in Iraq, saying he missed them, loved them and wished he could be with them at the game.
Turns out, he was.
Joe had flown back in from Iraq on Tuesday night, and spent the next four days hiding his whereabouts.
I set up this whole intricate system of lies basically to make sure she actually was not going to find out, he said, adding he even used calling cards while back in the country and told his family he was headed to Kuwait.
The idea of surprising the military family came from the Panthers organization and the USO of North Carolina. Andrea had heard of other military families being surprised, but she never thought it would happen to her.
I decided to give it up and stop hoping and to just realize realize that it was going to be a nice gesture, she said. I think you can tell by the look on my face when it happened that I was pretty shocked.
Joe had once surprised his wife by hiding earrings in their freezer for an anniversary gift. But nothing compares to Sunday s moment.
I could tell they were legitimately surprised and that brought me satisfaction because honestly I didn t think I d be able to pull it off. Seeing the looks on their faces and how excited they were, that was the best part about it.
The Jorgensen s are huge football fans, but Andrea admitted it was hard to focus during Carolina s game against the Titans.
When we left, I was like, I didn t even really watch the game. I was just kind of on another planet the whole time, Andrea said. I ve seen a couple people say that was the best part of the whole day.
Andrea is a stay-at-home mother who helps raise two sons and three daughters ranging in ages from eight years to two months old. The military family is expected to move to Charlottesville in a few years, but they ll be rooting for the Panthers for quite some time now.
I m an NFL fan. I ve always kind of been looking for a team (to root for), Joe said. I ve never really latched on to an NFL team, so definitely I am a Panthers fan now.