For most students, being picked up early from school for something special is always exciting, but for 9-year-old  Analisa Jimenez and her little sister Isabella, 5, both of whom attend FishHawk Creek Elementary School in Lithia, there could not have been a better treat than the surprise they received last month as they reported to the school’s main office.

What followed was a tearful reunion with their dad, Marine Capt. Esteban Jimenez, whose 48-hour-long journey home, from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan to Germany to a stop in Maine as well as a stop in North Carolina finally ended in the arms of his children.

“It was a long trip, but was worth every minute,” Jimenez said, and added that the anticipation of seeing his daughters again after being away for seven-and-a-half months while on his second tour, was overwhelming.

“I am very nervous,” he said as he kept an eye on the door the girls were to come through, while reporters and photographers surrounded him and his wife, Jennifer, and youngest child, Esteban, in hopes of capturing the moment of family reunion.

First to be surprised was Analisa, who lived up to the expectation as she held her dad in a lengthy bear hug, coupled with tears of joy, as if to say “I will never let you go.”

“When I was called to the office I thought I was in trouble, but when I saw my dad it was a wonderful feeling,” she said.

The younger of the two, Isabella, held her emotions back a bit, likely due to being overwhelmed by the surprise as well as all the attention and people around.

The girls were given a T-shirt to wear over their school clothes that read, “It’s been over 200 days since I hugged my daddy, today I’m taking him home.”

Next stop was home, but the first order of the day was to catch up on things over a few or more scoops of ice cream, one of the family’s favorite past times, which Jimenez said was something he had missed the most.

As the family enjoyed the moment, Jimenez, 34, emphasized that while he had missed his family, leaving his fellow soldiers behind was also tough.

“You also want to be there for them and to be with them,” he said during a brief follow up interview adding that he is home now and will be working at the base, but fulfilling his role as a father and husband takes equal priority.

Leaving the school, the four buckled into the family van, only this time Daddy was driving as the children were deciding on the flavor of ice cream they would soon enjoy.

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