GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - The cover story was simple enough. The local media converged on a kindergarten classroom in Gautier Friday morning to report on a successful reading program.
Tammy Morrison's kindergarten students eagerly welcomed news coverage about their reading success. Little did they know, the real reason for the cameras was a military dad surprising his two young sons.
If 5-year-old Benjamin Cox suspected anything, he certainly wasn't letting on, but the moment he spotted his Air Force dad walking his way, the ruse was up.
Young Benjamin burst into tears of joy; with his younger brother, Noah, equally excited by the moment.
Visitors reached for the Kleenex as daddy shared the love with his surprised sons: Benjamin the kindergartner and Noah the pre-school student.
"It's surreal. It's been such a long time. And they've grown so much. I mean, I'm just so proud of 'em," said the elder Benjamin Cox.
"And the true winner is right here. She took care of everything while I was gone. It's just, she stepped up and I'm so proud of all of them. I couldn't have done it without her. I'm so happy to see 'em."
"It's been rough. It's been rough. They cry for him a lot, and they've been waiting for this a long time," said his wife, Crystal Cox.
Benjamin's kindergarten class got to share in this joyful reunion, just as they've shared in the sadness of their young friend missing his father.
"Boys and girls, that's Benny's daddy!" said Benjamin's teacher, Tammy Morrison.
"Sometimes he does get emotional about it, like when he Skypes his dad. He'll come back and talk to us about it. And when he loses a tooth or we go on field trips, we make sure we take lots of pictures to put on Facebook, so dad can get tagged and see what's going on."
"Daddy, I want you to stay home," pleaded 4-year-old, Noah.
"I will," his dad replied.
"He's staying home!" said the excited youngster.
Ben Cox is home for the holidays after 189 days away from his family. His next mission is quite simple.
"Just catch up on everything we missed," said the Air Force serviceman.
His wife jokingly reminded him, "the grass needs cutting".