Jason Schultz had long planned to surprise his family.
The airman at Eglin Air Force Base told them he'd be back from a year-long deployment to Korea on Saturday, knowing that he actually would fly in several days early.
But he hadn't planned to involve Santa Claus, the Choctawhatchee High School marching band and an audience filled with friends and family.
That was the brainchild of school's resource officer, Tom Henry, who arranged to work Jason's return in at Thursday night's Christmas concert at the school.
"It was amazing," Jason said later. "I wasn't planning on doing it that way."
Jason's wife, Angie, and their youngest child, Mackenzie, picked him up at the airport about 7 p.m.
When he asked where his middle children -- Chelsea and Danny -- were, Angie told him they were at the concert. Their oldest child is in college.
When they arrived at Choctaw, Henry -- a longtime friend of Jason -- told them he was going to make the reunion extra special.
He arranged with the band director to call the Chelsea and Danny up to the stage to see Santa Claus. Then, while the kids were distracted, their father came up the aisle behind them.
"Santa said, 'I did make a pit stop on the way here to bring you guys a very special present. We stopped in Korea and picked up your dad," Angie recalled.
They turned around and fell into their father's arms.
"They were totally not expecting him until Saturday and totally not expecting him to be at the band concert," Angie said. "They were both crying. My husband was crying."
Jason said it was a memorable homecoming, and that he can't believe how much his children have grown in the past year.
"It's like they're almost new people," he said.
|Military Holidays Air Force|