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Military dad surprises 6-year-old at school after nine months apart

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee dad who was deployed for nine months waited an extra day to see his kids, just so he could surprise his 6-year-old daughter at school.

Family members call Army Specialist James Rhodes' daughter Zoey a miracle child because she had open-heart surgery at just 5 days old. Now, she’s a kindergarten student at Germantown Elementary.

Rhodes has been deployed in Poland since last July.

“I’ve been in eastern Europe deterring Russian threats," Rhodes said. “I decided to join the Army to benefit my family. I missed my family very much. Very much. I’m glad to be back home."

James Rhodes sneaks up behind his 6-year-old daughter Zoey to surprise her at school Friday. (photos by Stacy Jacobson, WREG)

Zoey's grandmother is glad to have Rhodes back in the United States.

“My daughter works a full-time job with the two babies, and they need their dad," Stephanie Hankins said. "But I know he went off to the service to protect us, so it was good. But I think now they need their father."

Rhodes got home Thursday night but didn’t wake up the kids, deciding to wait it out until Friday.

"I just want to surprise her," Rhodes said. "Let her know I’m home."

As Zoey worked on lessons with her teacher, the man she hadn’t seen since before the school year walked in to her classroom.

It took Zoey a minute after her father appeared behind her – then her big smile shows and she embraced the dad she’s been talking to every day on video chat.

“I’m so excited, you just don’t know!" Hankins said. "I left my job to come up here to see both of them. I haven’t seen him either because he just got home last night, so I’m so excited. I’m so excited."

Zoey got to leave school early that day.

“We're going to go get pancakes and going to Chuck E. Cheese's!” her dad said.

Next, they get to spend Mother's Day weekend back together as a family.

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