1216PIEDaudGinny Thibeault of Habersham County talks about her husband’s surprise arrival at her school after returning from deployment in Afghanistan.
Ginny Thibeault got her Christmas gift early — her husband returning from deployment in Afghanistan. And that he showed up in time for her graduation from Piedmont College in Demorest.
The Habersham County couple had planned for Army Spc. Richie Thibeault to arrive on Friday, but he flew in a day earlier and surprised his wife at Mount Yonah Elementary School in White County.
She completed her student teaching there before receiving her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education on Saturday, along with 300 other graduates.
"I was walking around talking (to the students) ... and I didn’t even see the (classroom) door open," said Ginny Thibeault, 24, in a phone interview Tuesday.
"Richie walked in and said, ‘Hey baby.’ I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to react. ... It was definitely a month of worry gone away."
The past few months have been tough ones for the Thibeaults, who got married April 5, two weeks before he was deployed to Afghanistan. On Aug. 10, Richie Thibeault, 22, was wounded by a round from an AK-47 assault rifle. When he returned to duty the next month, his patrol ran over an improvised explosive device.
Thibeault spent three weeks in the hospital in Germany and then two more weeks in Washington, D.C. With two Purple Heart medals, he will be reporting back to Fort Lewis in Washington in January. "I’m doing better. It takes time, really," he said.
"I’m looking at a possible surgery, but hopefully not, for the bulging disc in my back."
Piedmont President Ray Cleere recognized the couple during graduation ceremonies, with the audience giving the couple a standing ovation.
Richie Thibeault was especially pleased with being able to see his wife walk across the stage.
"I’ve been with her even before she started college," he said.
Ginny Thibeault plans to return to Washington with her husband and hopes to find a teaching job there. "It’s going to be different. It’s going to be hard to leave my family and friends," she said. "At the same time, it’s time for us for us to be together and live the married life."