Seven-year-old Lichele Hines threw her arms around her daddy’s neck and did not let go.
U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lionel Hines had just returned from a 10-month deployment during which he had no contact with his family due to the nature of his assignment, according to Temecula Valley Unified School District Spokeswoman Melanie Norton.
All that changed Friday morning when Hines surprised his two children, Lichele and 6-year-old Mason, at French Valley Elementary School in Winchester.
“I wanted to run to them faster than they were running to me but I was just trying to keep it under composure,” Hines said. “It’s fantastic to hold my kids. I love them so much.”
Prior to the reunion, Lichele and Mason sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of the student body as part of the school’s weekly Friday Flag ceremony.
“They were great,” Hines said, with Lichele still hugging his neck and Mason wrapped around his leg. “They’ve been singing their ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ just like we taught when they were little kids...I expected them to sing that great.”
His wife Michele said she knew about the surprise and helped coordinate it, but that it was also the first time she was seeing him since his return.
“I did this for the kids,” Michele said.
She explained that her husband had been permitted to return home briefly in September 2012 to attend her mother’s funeral.
“But he was gone as soon as he came,” Michele said.
Then her father died last week.
“It’s been a long year,” she said.
The school allowed the children to take the day off, and the family planned to head straight home.
Hines thanked everyone who helped arrange the surprise.
"It's good to be home," Hines said. "I set my clock to West Coast time last night," Hines said. "I haven’t done that in a year."