HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The Coleman family of Harrison County personally understands the sacrifices made by soldiers and their children. After a year-long deployment in Kuwait, Army Private First Class Norman Coleman came home a week early, much to the surprise of his family.
Coleman said it was his first and longest deployment. He realized it has been tough on his wife and three young children. So he secretly planned the surprise visit Tuesday to make his homecoming memorable.
"I'm excited. Can't wait, very nervous, ready to see her face," said Norman Coleman as he waited anxiously in the hallway.
Fresh from surprising his wife Gloria and two young children at home, Coleman was ready to drop-in on his oldest daughter at North Woolmarket Elementary School. The military dad has been stationed in Kuwait since last November. Every day apart has been difficult for six-year-old Madalynn.
"You can tell it's really put a toll on her. So it's kind of gotten harder for her, but she's been counting down the days. Even this morning when we were leaving for school, 'How many days, Momma?'" said his wife, Gloria Coleman.
"I've looked forward to this moment for the past 12 months. I've been excited ever since," said Norman Coleman. "I just miss those dimples."
Those months seemed to melt away as the unsuspecting first grader spotted her daddy. Madalynn immediately jumped into her daddy's arms.
"Oh, baby girl," Coleman said as tears filled his eyes. "I missed you. I love you."
"I love you, too," Madalynn replied.
Her mom and teachers all cried as they watched the touching moment between a dad and his daughter. The shy little girl Coleman remembered 12 months ago had grown up.
"It feels great. It was better than I expected. I expected her to be shy and she proved me wrong. Oh, so happy. I was surprised when she ran up to me. I thought I had to go get her," said Coleman. "My heart just dropped. It's one of the best feelings ever."
When asked what she thought about her dad coming home, Madalynn replied, 'Good.'"
As they prepared to head home, Madalynn got a reassuring message from dad.
"Guess what! I'm not going back," he told her.
With daddy back, the family certainly has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
"I love you so much. You happy?" Coleman asked Madalynn.
"I just wanted something for my kids to have to look back on when they're older, to not just to see that they were sad and lonely during my deployment, but also that I can surprise them. It's something happy to look back on," said Coleman.
Coleman is looking forward to playing baseball and going to the zoo with his wife and children. They will also be doing a lot of packing. The family will be moving to Hawaii at the end of the month.