DUPLIN COUNTY -- It wasn't Santa making an early visit to one local elementary school, but it was surprise nonetheless.
Captain Todd Coates stopped by Wallace Elementary School on Thursday to surprise his pen pal, third grader Ellis Parker.
Coates is home on leave from the 82nd Airborne.
While overseas, the Army captain has been corresponding with Parker through pictures, e-mails and letters.
The soldier says it's important for kids to know what's happening around the world.
"I think we all have to learn more about what's actually going on, I think it's a whole different culture and world, it's unique and interesting," explained Captain Todd Coates.
Coates is home on leave from Iraq for a few weeks.
Reported by Kelli O'Hara