DAVENPORT -- Jessie Wirtz smiled shyly, her hands clasped in front of her, as she faced her fellow fourth-graders, waiting to be honored as a school hero and unaware that something even better was about to happen.
It was Friday, and the students of Jackson Elementary, were enjoying their fall party complete with games and treats and other fun. Later there would be more festivities, and the kids would get to wear Halloween costumes.
But at that moment, Jessie had just been picked by a special visitor -- Spiderman -- as a model of good behavior in a Jackson student.
The award was a "hero cape" that Jessie got to wear and Spiderman, standing behind her, carefully put it on her.
Then he took off his mask to reveal a handsome face, a bit tired but happy. Jessie turned and immediately knew that face. It was one she had missed for a year because it was thousands of miles away.
"Daddy!" she said.
Then she was crying in Sgt. 1st Class Dave Wirtz's arms, her eyes squeezed shut. They hugged for several minutes and he talked softly to his daughter, catching up, as Jessie's classmates chattered about them.
"I'm just glad that he's home because I really missed him," Jessie said once she'd had a chance to collect herself.
Sgt. Wirtz, part of the Army Sustainment Command based at the Rock Island Arsenal, had just finished a tour in Afghanistan where he helped supply a task force that, as he put it, was "hunting bad guys."
Jessie thought he was not supposed to be home until Monday. But with the help of Jessie's teacher, Mary Newcomer, and other school officials, Sgt. Wirtz was able to put together the surprise visit.
It came with a price, though. Upon arriving home Thursday night, Sgt. Wirtz had to stay away from Jessie, his wife, Christy, and his infant daughter, McKinley, to make it work.
"I was at the Black Hawk last night," he said.
Sgt. Wirtz said he has been deployed a number of times since 2005, each time either in Afghanistan or Iraq. His absence, he said, makes his daughters heroes.
"It's got to be hard to be away from their dad," he said.