HOUSTON -

A soldier who just returned from serving the country in Afghanistan received a surprising and heartwarming welcome home on Friday.

Third-grade students at Piney Woods Elementary in Splendora spent the entire school year writing Army Spc. Orlando Ivy through the adopt-a-soldier program.

"They just sent me cards and letters, and I had fun reading, and fun responding to them," said Ivy.

When it was time for the soldier to return home from Afghanistan, the class dreamed up a special way to thank him for her service. The class gathered the entire school for an amazing surprise. Hundreds of students filled the gym.

With Ivy seated in a special chair, students shared their thank-you messages.

"Thank you for protecting our freedom. Thank you for defending our nation. We are grateful to you, sir," said one Piney Woods student.

Ivy said he never thought he would receive a welcome home like this.

"I'm glad that I'm here. I have been just as probably excited as the students just to be here on today," said Ivy.