BRANDENBURG, KY (WAVE) - A little girl turns seven and gets the surprise of a lifetime. Her father has deployed to Iraq three times and almost didn't make it back this time, but nothing was going to stop him from missing her birthday.
Inside Brandenburg Primary School students are talking about what they are looking forward to most for the holidays in Mrs. French's first grade class.
Jojo Owen squeezed her eyes tight for a long time. She has been thinking about something other than food for the holidays, her father, Sgt. Barton Owen, who received the Purple Heart twice.
Owen is back in the states, but left his family behind when he was transferred to Ft. Benning, GA for the next year because of BRAC, partly because of the good schools in Brandenburg.
"It's the hardest on her with us not living together," said Jojo's mother Jane Stetson.
It can be especially hard on her 7th birthday, which is on 11/11/11.
"This is my second child that has a special holiday birthday," said Stetson. "My other son, Randy, he was born on the Fourth of July, and now I have a Veterans Day baby, so it's just extra special to us being a military family."
Around 1:11 p.m. Jojo's surprise walks into the school building.
"I'm here to surprise Jojo on her 7th birthday," said Owen.
Back in the 1st grade classroom Jojo has no idea what's about to happen. Her expression changes to surprise when she sees him. She jumps out of her seat and into his arms, refusing to let go for the next half hour.
"I thought you were coming home on December 18th," said Jojo.
Owen told her he came home for her birthday to surprise her.
"She started crying I think, so I almost cried, but I held it back," said Owen.
As is typical in most army towns, several other children in the class said they hadn't seen their fathers in a long time either.
"I love you, Jim Bob," said Jojo, using a nickname for her dad.
Owen says he still plans to come home for Christmas.