For military families, being apart is often hard to get used to. But when a soldier returns home, the feeling is bittersweet.
When Rhiannon and Liam Hoyle arrived at Hawthorne Elementary Monday morning, it was like any other day. Little did they know, a big surprise was ahead of them.
Their dad, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant John Hoyle, has been in Afghanistan for the past year. Rhiannon and Liam haven't seen their dad in six months.
"They still think there's 29 days left before I'm coming home... so they're well off as far as the timeline," said Staff Sergeant Hoyne. "So they have no idea."
Each morning, the students at the Mexico elementary school line up to say the Pledge of Allegiance and hear school announcements.
Today they were joined by a special guest.
Staff Sergeant Hoyne emerged from behind a curtain on the school's stage, and it took a few moments for his children to realize their dad was standing before them.
The kids jumped up and embraced their dad with hugs and a few tears.
Their mother, Mandi, arranged the surprise and kept it all a secret. She said the time without John has been hard, but the family supports him all the way.
"The kids have done really well," said Mandi. "But it's wonderful having him home. We're always together but it's just better having him in the house."
Staff Sergeant Hoyle can be deployed again at any time if he's needed. He's on leave right now, which guarantees him time with his family.
The next thing on their agenda? Planning a family trip to Disney World.
Even when they were apart, the Hoyle family always kept one thing with them to remind them of dad - a special bracelet.
When asked if he wears it all the time, Liam said he never takes it off - only when he takes a bath.
"It keeps me with dad," said Liam, with a smile. "Because he made it."