From California to Florida, this is a holiday many military families will not forget. Surprise soldier homecomings can begin to look very similar but each one has its own story and emotion.
"It's hard to describe that feeling of being reunited with your family after so long," says Staff Sergeant Melissa Meinzer who just returned home as a part of the final wave of soldiers leaving Iraq. Meinzer surprised her first grader, Cody, at his school.
Cody was speechless when mom walked through the doors of his school auditorium after being apart for over a year. "It's very difficult to be separated from Cody but at the same time I have a lot of pride in what I do and I'm very proud of the men and women who serve," explains Meinzer who will be at home for about a year before her next assignment.
In Fairfield, California, 4-year-old Stephanie yelled out "Daddy" and burst into tears when Staff Sergeant Brett Randal appeared on stage holding a giant white stuffed bear and roses. Grinning from ear to ear Randal said before his unveiling, "I take the time to be with my family, it means the world to me."
Randal's wife and daughter did not think he would make it home in time to see the recital. They knew he was coming home from Afghanistan but not so soon. "I love you," Stephanie said while squeezing her father. "I love you too," he responded.
Randal will be at home just long enough for Christmas before he returns to Afghanistan. He says he does not plan to spend his time at home shopping for gifts. Instead he wants to be with his wife and daughter.
And in Independence, Missouri, MacKenzie and Elizabeth Williams told Santa the one thing they wanted most for Christmas was to have their father home. It was one wish Santa was sure he could grant.
While the two sisters told Santa what they wanted out walked Tom Williams, on leave from Afghanistan. "I missed you girls so much," he said while hugging both girls.
Williams gets two weeks with his family before he heads back to Afghanistan. It's just long enough for him to meet his son's little girl, Jaiden, who is only five months old. "Very beautiful, I couldn't wait to see her," he said.
Being home for Christmas is extra special for David Weis, who has been in combat during the past three holidays. "I've been daydreaming about this day… So it's finally here, it's pretty crazy," he said after surprising his mother in Pennsylvania.