After 6-month deployment, father of 3 makes stop at SDMS to surprise daughter 

(Feb. 1, 2019) Last Wednesday started like any other for 14-year-old Berlin resident Madilynn Diehl, until she got an unexpected visit in the cafeteria from what she thought was the Stephen Decatur Middle School “Bulldog” mascot during her lunch period.

“I was like, ‘why is he coming in here?’” Madilynn said. “The mascot never comes in usually, so I was just surprised.”

Staff Sgt. Diehl and daughter

Staff Sgt. Michael Diehl, 33, and his daughter, Madilynn, 14, pose for a photo after he surprised her at Stephen Decatur Middle School.

But surprise wouldn’t adequately describe her reaction when the mascot removed the costume head to reveal who was behind the masquerade: her father, Michael Diehl.

The 33-year-old staff sergeant had just returned from a six-month deployment with the Air Force in Qatar.

“I couldn’t wait to give her a hug,” he said. 

The reunion was captured on video and posted to the school’s Facebook page, where it received thousands of views, so far, as well as hundreds of comments and shares.

“I just really want to thank everybody for the warm welcome and all the appreciation and gratitude and support that we’ve received,” Diehl said. “It’s amazing to get such a warm welcome back.”

Pulling off a surprise like this was a first for the middle school.

“That is the first time of anything of that magnitude, where a father or a mother would surprise their children like that,” Assistant Principal Mark Shipley said. “It was a great moment.”

Mark Shipley

Mark Shipley, assistant principal at Stephen Decatur Middle School

The setup began when Diehl called the school while driving from the Baltimore area and asked if it would be possible to see his daughter. 

Shipley was on lunch duty when he heard about the call from the school secretary. Having seen this type of surprise visit on television before, he greeted Diehl at the school and mentioned the mascot costume.

The video shows Diehl walking through the cafeteria as the Stephen Decatur Middle School Bulldog, waving and giving high-fives to several students before approaching his daughter. When he took off the mascot head, he said it was as if “time stood still.”


Michael and Madilynn embrace after he surprised her at school.

The video shows Madilynn screaming with excitement and then jumping up to hug her dad.

“It was mixed emotions,” she said. “I felt … shocked and happy and surprised at the same time.”

Madilynn had been sitting with her friends and talking with them about her father’s deployment. She said her friends loved the video.

“They wanted to see the video again and again and again,” Madilynn said.

It also was a memorable occasion for the roughly 150 students and staff in the lunchroom. 

“There weren’t too many dry eyes in that cafeteria that day,” Shipley said. “It was one of the greatest moments I’ve experienced here at the middle school.”

Diehl and son

Diehl, and his son, Mason, 11, embrace last Wednesday when he visited him at Berlin Intermediate School.

After Diehl’s visit with Madilynn, he headed to see his 11-year-old son, Mason, at Berlin Intermediate School. Diehl also has a 2-year-old son named Camden.

In the six years Diehl has been in the Air Force, the Qatar assignmentwas his first overseas deployment, which included trips to Germany and Estonia in support of military operations. He is also a firefighter at the 175th fire department in Baltimore. 

Now that he’s stateside, he’s glad to be reunited with his three children and wife, Lauren.

“I am very excited to be home. To me, nowhere compares to America!” he said. “I look forward to spending time with family and visiting our favorite local places.”

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