Marine Sgt. Joey Jones returned Thursday from seven months in the Middle East but chose to wait overnight to hug his 2- and 7-year-old sons.
On the last words of the Pledge of Allegaince during Friday morning flag ceremony, the sergeant walked out of a pair of double doors to his unsuspecting son, Domenik, 7.
Jones, 25, and his wife, Desiree, 23, planned the surprise with Domenik's teacher and the help of school administrators.
"It was a big headache to pull off," Desiree said, as the unit's return date kept changing.
She'd met her husband at the base Thursday, and drove him to a family member's home. When they were sure the kids were asleep, he snuck in the house.
But they wouldn't have done it any differently.
"He'd been gone for so long and we'd wanted to do it with a bang," she said.
This was the longest deployment yet for Jones, after a tour in the Western Pacific and Middle East.
"It was during their formative years, so it (was hard)," Jones said, as his two sons continued hugging him.
Domenik suffered a broken wrist while he was away, and was sporting a cast.
The couple, originally from Florida, chose to buy a home in Murrieta a few years ago when Jones got stationed at Camp Pendleton.
"This is a great area for Marines," Jones said, speaking of the nearness to the base and the supportive community.
Only about 40 percent of those stationed at Camp Pendleton live on base; a majority of the others live in Murrieta and Temecula.
Because of the high concentration of military families, Murrieta Valley Unified School District is among those that have created a
Jones doesn't get leave until the end of October, and will be continuing duties on base until then. But he'll be able to be with his family each evening. They plan to "hang around the house." Jones was looking forward to tasting his wife's Italian cooking again.
"My wife makes the best calzones."