GALT -- After serving in Iraq as a Chinook helicopter pilot for nearly a year, U.S. Army Capt. Cynthia Jones came home to California Tuesday and surprised her daughters at Galt Adventist School.
Kindergartner Mary was the first to run into her mother's arms for a long embrace when school got out, followed by third-grader Naomi.
The girls knew their mom was coming home within a week but were completely surprised and elated to see her Tuesday.
"I was so happy," Mary said.
"I was shocked," Naomi added. "I didn't know what I would do without a mom in my life. It made me really proud to see that she was home."
"They've grown so much and there's probably a lot that's happened over this last year that I've missed," Capt. Jones told FOX40. "But I'm excited to come back and be a part of this."
Capt. Jones' husband, Dan, knows the sacrifice well. He served in Afghanistan. This past year, he's been focused on serving his family at home, knowing how much the girls missed their mother.
"I know the girls really wanted her back for a long time," Dan Jones said of his role in his wife's absence. "It's awesome having her back. Trying to keep them occupied, make the time go by faster."
"It's been a tough year for them and for dad. They've all worked together. But we know that Cynthia's been doing something important," said Galt Adventist School Principal Cynthia Ackerman. "It's important to serve our country. So she gave up being a mom for a year and went and served our country. So we're proud of her for that."
Having finished her overseas deployment, Capt. Jones gets to stay home for good, serving domestically in the Army National Guard. She described Tuesday's family reunion as "just being complete and being home and having that love that you have when you're all together."
Naomi said what she's looking forward to the most is "spending as much time with her as we can."