John Sparks had his mind set on eating hot wings with bleu cheese dressing.
But when the U.S. Army soldier entered Rooster’s Café on Thursday night, he hugged every friend and family member in the room before sitting down to take a bite of the meal he’d waited a year for.
“It’s just good to be home,” Sparks said.
Friend Erin Morrow said Sparks thought he was meeting just his immediate family for dinner, but she arranged a surprise group of about 30 to gather at the Cumming eatery.
“He’s only going to be here for 24 hours,” Morrow said prior to his visit. “Our friends want to come and give him a hug, or shake his hand and thank him for what he’s done.
“His time’s so limited, even when he’s here longer than a day, he doesn’t get an opportunity to see everybody.”
When Sparks entered the room, a big smile crept across his face.
Friends talked with him about softball and new tattoos as they munched on hot wings and celery.
Sparks, who joined the service about three years ago, was stationed in Afghanistan for the past year.
He stopped at a base in Alaska earlier this month, where he’ll return in a couple weeks after visiting family in Florida.
His wife, Amy, said the opportunity to see so many family members and friends during his one day in Cumming was special.
“This is the first time he’s seen his niece,” she said. “He hasn’t seen anybody here in a year.”
That includes her.
Amy Sparks, a member of the National Guard, said in the past two years, the couple has been together for about two weeks.
Morrow said her friend of more than seven years signed up for the Army as a way to make a different life for himself and his family.
“He saw it as an opportunity to better himself,” Morrow said, “an opportunity to higher his education and develop a trade.”