ORANGE PARK, Fla. - Two Orange Park girls received an early Christmas present Friday, but not from Santa Claus.
Their father, Staff Sgt. Shawn Joseph, returned from a 15-month deployment in South Korea to surprise his daughters on the last day before winter break.
Joseph hid in a conference room at Argyle Elementary School and, after the girls were taken out to an assembly in the courtyard, he sneaked up behind them for the big surprise.
The tearful reunion with 8-year-old Kira and 6-year-old Shaelynn was a long time coming -- more than a year.
“We kept it a surprise to the kids because they have gotten more and more excited as they’ve gotten older for when I come home, and we wanted to surprise them before Christmas,” Joseph said.
Tears rolled down Kira's cheeks as she described what she's missed the most.
“Spending time with him,” she said. “Seeing his face.”
Together, the family participated in a milestone -- cutting down the yellow ribbon in the school courtyard.
Yellow ribbons tied around trees at the school represent family members who are away on deployment.
The school holds a ceremony for each family at the start of a deployment and at the end, when their loved ones return, the family cuts the ribbon down.
With their yellow ribbon in hand, the Joseph family is whole again, just in time for Christmas.
And they've got a lot of catching up to do.
“I'm most excited to just listen to everything that they’ve gone through and learned in the past 15 months,” Joseph said.
There's also a lot of packing to do.
Joseph will spend the next few years stationed at Fort George G. Meade, so the family is preparing for a move to Maryland.
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