Army lieutenant returns from overseas, surprises girlfriend in front of her middle school class

Stephanie Shelpman had been told to expect about a half dozen reporters who visited her classroom at Harrisburg School District’s Rowland Academy on Monday. She was told they’d be visiting to report on the district’s academic recovery.

However, she didn’t expect that it was a lie set up by her longtime boyfriend Alexander Knell, a lieutenant with the U.S. Army National Guard, so that he could surprise her with his return from an overseas deployment.

Knell snuck in behind the reporters, and when Shelpman spotted him, it was clear his surprise had worked.

With her mouth open in shock, she reached out and embraced him with a hug.

“We’ve been through a lot the last 10 to 12 months,” Shelpman said, expressing her happiness in the moments after her reunion with Knell.

It was a reunion cheered on by the applause of Shelpman’s students. She is a fifth-grade math and science teacher at the middle school.

Knell and Shelpmen were introduced by mutual friends about 5 years ago, when they were living near Pittsburgh, and soon, they were dating, he said.

Knell also is a member of the Army National Guard, which has led to trainings and a deployment that have taken him out of town away from Knell and their new home in Dauphin.

For the last 10 months, a deployment sent Knell away to Poland, where he served as part of a NATO battle group working a European deterrence initiative, he said.

“It’s been tough being away,” Knell said, explaining he’s missed out on “major life events,” including the death of a loved one, while overseas.

All the time, he had his return on mind, and last week, when he found out his homecoming was imminent, he orchestrated the surprise at Rowland.

Standing in an office inside the school Monday afternoon, Knell said he’s already been back in the United States for about a day and a half, but he’d been hiding out, waiting for the big surprise.

And when that moment came, Knell and Shelpman weren’t selfish. They shared it with her students, who had written to Knell while he was on deployment.

“We consider them kind of part of the family, too,” Knell said.

The students took turns asking Knell questions about his time overseas and role in the military.

Now that Knell is home, the couple said they are excited just to spend time together in their new house, relaxing and playing board games. Knell said he’s also excited for home-cooked meals.

He’s grown tired of Poland’s pork and perogies, he joked.

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