Since Father's Day last year, Sgt. Thomas McCoy has been in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard.
When he got word that he would be able to return home to Walton County almost six weeks ago, his wife Amanda immediately began planning his homecoming to Santa Rosa Beach.
"We tried really hard to keep it a secret," she said.
With the help of teachers at Bay Elementary and Good News United Methodist Church Preschool, Amanda and her parents, Missy and Dan Marcinkowski, were able to plan a grand surprise for her three kids Monday afternoon.
The first stop was to pick up four-year-old Olivia at Good News UMC where Thomas, dressed in his camouflage, walked out of the white limo his father-in-law had arranged and into the church auditorium where students were practicing their graduation ceremony.
It took a few seconds for Olivia to register what was going on, but in no time she ran into her father's arms while happy tears slipped down her cheeks.
"She's definitely a daddy's girl," Amanda said. "This deployment has been very hard on her. Recently she's been very clingy, asking for him all the time."
To see a video of Thomas reuniting with Olivia, click here.
Dan arranged for a full procession to drive the family around complete with two Walton County police car and motorcycles. Riding the motorcycles were the head deacons of Vision Church, where the family attends. As a Vietnam vet, Dan understands the sacrifices military men and women make and wanted to honor his son-in-law's service.
"It's been great to see the outpouring of support," he said. "I remember coming back from Vietnam, and you were lucky if your parents were there to greet you. Seeing that shift of support and recognition makes it all worth it."
With Dan's up-to-the-second planning, Thomas waited for the precise time to step in the limo with Olivia in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder.
"It feels really good to be home — it's all overwhelming," said the Bronze-Star Army guard. "I look forward to taking a break, getting back into a routine, connecting with the family and playing baseball with the boys."
In no time he'll be making up for lost time. Amanda already has her honey-do list written down.
"That starts tomorrow," she said.
"I was expecting that right when I got off the plane," Thomas joked.
On the way to pick up Tommy, 10, and Judah, 8, Olivia did not let go of her dad.
As the procession turned into Bay Elementary the family was met with the entire student body and faculty cheering with numerous signs reading "Welcome Home." News Channel 7 was even there to get an interview. Tommy and Judah, still in the dark, thought they were getting a visit from the President of United States.
When Thomas got of the limo, he was met with cheers, claps, handshakes and big hugs from his sons. It wasn't planned, but Judah was appropriately wearing a shirt that read "My daddy is my hero."
"Now we can hang out during the summer," Thomas said as he hugged his family.