Central York High School's 1,700 students came together Monday morning to form a brigade outside the school's front doors.
Chanting "U-S-A!" and waving tiny American flags, the students fixed their faces forward to welcome home their principal, Ryan Caufman, who had been on active military duty for the past two years.
With a telling fade haircut and staid demeanor, Caufman made his rounds among the massive crowd.
Although freshman Lynnae Swanson came to the school after his departure, she said she could feel how much everyone appreciates him.
"I think it's cool," she said. "And his students care about him."
And Madison Adams, another freshman, also met him for the first time on Monday.
"I think that it (made) him feel really good about serving his country," she said of the surprise welcome. "And I feel good for making him feel good."
Coming home: Caufman, a major in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, spent the past two years in Jordan and Kuwait.
"It was a good mission that we had -- had a lot of good experiences ... but it's always good to be home," he said.
And working with the staff and students at Central since 2006 has fueled him with loyalty and passion, Caufman said. Although he said he didn't anticipate such a strong greeting, it wasn't too much of a shock, considering how supportive the school has been.
"I wouldn't expect anything else," he said.
Senior MacKenzie Windsor said she had fond memories of the principal from before his military leave.
"He was really nice and respectful to all his students, and he cared about his school a lot," she said.
Caufman was always involved in school activities and made the students feel comfortable, Windsor said.
"He was a very welcoming principal. He made the school welcoming," she said.
And even while on duty overseas, he stayed in touch with school updates, said 11th-grade teacher Mark Shive.
"We're excited to have him back, that's for sure," he said.
--Reach Mollie Durkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.