Sgt. 1st Class Scott Faile was sitting in an office down the hall when he heard her voice.
His wife Tammy was thanking two women on the event staff at Williams-Brice Stadium; they were beaming back.
She and their children, Breanna and Cameron, 15 and 10, respectively, were taking a tour of the stadium just before the Georgia game. He hadn’t seen them in a year.
But Sgt. Faile, 41, stayed put.
The night before, he’d flown in from Camp Carroll, South Korea, and for the last few hours, he’d been hanging out, watching the LSU-Florida game with a group of police officers who were on break.
She’d expected his tour of duty to end two weeks later; he’d been planning the surprise for months.
Their friends and family drove from Georgia and around the state to see them. As the Failes walked through the stadium, everyone smiled.
"It seems that Mom and the two kids were the only ones that did not know," Tammy Faile, 41, said, gesturing toward her kids in their home here.
It began with an email Sgt. Faile sent to around 50 people at USC. One was Derek Scott, an assistant general manager of the Gamecock Sports Network.
Scott coordinates the "Military Family of the Game" promotion with the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, and recently, they’d been talking about bringing a serviceman home.
That’s when Sgt. Faile emailed, around three months ago. They found him a hotel room and told his family they’d been picked to be honored.
Before he left South Korea, he recorded a video message to his family. He thanked them for their sacrifices — for uprooting when he was restationed and carrying on while he was overseas.
"Just keep in mind that my tour is almost over," he told them in the video. "I’ll see you real, real soon."
They watched him from the 30-yard line. Tammy Faile wiped tears from her eyes; Breanna and Cameron covered their mouths.
"It completely touched me, and I was bawling my eyes out," Tammy Faile said, "but I kept saying, 'I’d rather have him here.' I think that’s what got me even more upset — that he wasn’t home."
He was standing inside the visitors’ tunnel. A few minutes later, he stepped out into the end zone in his Army fatigues.
"He was rearing to go," Scott said. "He practically ran over me on his charge out there."
The stadium, packed in with a sold-out crowd, erupted.
Tammy didn’t hear any of it. Her focus, she said, was on him. The three sprinted.
She tugged on Breanna’s shirt to edge her out; their sideline passes flapped behind them.
Tammy jumped into an embrace with her husband, and their children clung to his arms. The crowd roared into a "U-S-A" chant.
Like his wife, Sgt. Faile didn’t pay much attention to the thousands around him.
He set up his return for his family, he said — to thank them and surprise them at the end of his tour of duty. He hopes it’s his last.
Still, the moment’s gone viral.
A friend from Hawaii wrote to say she’d seen it on the news; men who usually shielded their emotions told the family they’d cried when they watched it.
They weren’t alone. A video posted to YouTube picked up more than a million views within a week, and it spread up across the world. The clip made it onto the "Today" show, "Good Morning America," CNN’s headline news and a slew of others.
His wife said she was glad so many people could share in the moment, but Sgt. Faile doesn’t care for the attention.
He wishes the video hadn’t made it online, and he wants to get back to life as usual — to doing chores around the house and going to Cameron’s football practices.
He’s a quiet man, Tammy Faile said; that’s why she was surprised his return was so elaborate.
They live in a modest, one-story home in a small subdivision near Fort Gordon. It’s in rural Georgia, in an unassuming town hemmed in by stretches of forest.
Harlem, Ga., is best known for producing a comedian who was widely famous in the 1920s and ’30s. Now, it’s back in the spotlight again — at least for a moment.
"I’ll subject myself to those 15 minutes (of fame) for them, I guess," he said, looking to his family, who’d squeezed onto a couch next to him.
They had to go. Cameron had a football game in an hour, and the family needed to get ready.
Sgt. Faile was getting used to being back. He’s back to driving the kids to school, keeping up with their laundry and helping Tammy out around the house — and sleeping off his jet lag.
"Daddy’s home," Tammy Faile said. “My baby’s home."
Originally published in The Daily Gamecock, Oct. 12, 2012