After a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Sory sat in a back office at Los Banos Elementary School Friday morning.
The father of three and his wife, Samara, were moments away from the culmination of weeks of planning to surprise their two oldest children with the return of their dad.
“All the Youtube videos made me want to do it,” said Samara Sory, who contacted the school and sent her children on a sleepover with their cousins before her husband’s arrival on Thursday. “My daughter had a struggle when he left, she had real bad separation anxiety. We usually have a yearly trip to go to Disneyland and they didn’t want to go this year. This will be a memorable moment.”
The children, Jocelyn ,7, and Damani, 12, were told the school was having a flag ceremony to honor active military personnel. To avoid suspicion, Damani, a sixth-grader at R.M. Miano Elementary School, was told he would be a special guest at the event held on his sister’s campus. Kiyanna, 2, was in on the plan.
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Members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion appeared alongside the Los Banos Fire Department to lead the 835 students in the flag celebration. Principal Paul Montemurro invited the Sory siblings to lead the Pledge of Allegiance and asked if they wanted a soldier to help them.
Samara Sory turned away from her children so they wouldn’t see the tears of happiness that flowed as she realized what was about to happen. Her husband stepped out of the office and was quickly enveloped by simultaneous embraces.
Michael Sory said no words were spoken when his children hugged him for the first time in nearly a year.
“Just tears,” he said. “It means everything, glad to be back with my family.”