Finally back home after a year overseas, an east valley soldier wanted to make his homecoming one his three kids would never forget. So, he surprised all three of them while they were in school.
Earlier this week, Sgt. Daniel Valentin got word that he was coming home. He and the rest of his family were able to keep this a secret from the three kids.
Back home after a year in Kuwait, Sgt. Valentin gave his wife a big hug at the airport. This first reunion was the only one that wasn't a surprise. They kept it a secret for 5 days.
"It was very very hard."
"I came the 14th of January and then I was stuck in Fort Bliss, Texas. The kids knew I was back in the states but I told them I was going to be home in a couple of months," says Valentin.
The first stop -- 11-year-old Delylah's class.
"Hey baby girl."
"I was in complete shock. I didn't… I was literally shaking," says Delylah.
The schools were in on it too. The American Leadership Academy lined their campuses with American flags and at the high school, students filled the hallway, their hands over their heart.
The soldier's son was in class reading an essay. The topic? What it is like having a dad serving overseas. Then dad interrupted. The kids say they had no idea.
"I couldn't believe anything. I was about to faint. I didn't know what was happening. Is this real?" says son Ivan. "The best thing ever!"
To applause from the other students and the staff, the soldier and his son left campus.
"They all just came together. Cause I honestly didn't think it was going to be like that and to see everyone get together for the return of my husband, I think it was grand, it was phenomenal," says wife Yahaira Valentin.
But there was still one more surprise. 3 year-old Emmalee at daycare.
"Come here. Daddy's home baby."
"This was the toughest because when I left she was in diapers and drinking out of a bottle. Now she is potty trained and probably driving a car or something I don't know," laughs Valentin.
"With my older kids, they kind of understood what was going on, I am leaving again. The deployment whatever… well her, she didn't understand. We did a lot of video chatting whenever we could, but it is not the same, I am just glad to be back home."
So is the rest of the family.
Sgt. Valentin is an IT specialist. He's been in the army for 7 years. Before this tour in Kuwait, he served in Iraq.
So what's next for him? It's back to civilian life now. He told me today he's looking forward to a well-deserved break.
WJBK-TV | Fox 2
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