Parents

Military dad surprises his 7-year-old daughter at school assembly

A 7-year-old girl in Pennsylvania had a big surprise recently when her dad snuck up behind her at a school assembly after being deployed with the U.S. Army for seven months.

Imogen Nowak was speaking to her fellow classmates about military families — and how simple items from home, like American sweets, could seem like a luxury to military members deployed on the other side of the globe. “Even one package of candy means like all the money in the world to them,” explained Nowak, a second grade student at Quaker Valley Osbourne Elementary School.

That’s when her dad, U.S. Army Captain Erik Nowak— who had been stationed in Turkey, Kuwait, Iraq and Qatar — walked up behind Imogen in his uniform, and whispered in her ear “I liked it a lot.”

Imogen screamed “Daddy!” and jumped into her father’s arms. The audience erupted in cheers.

The heartwarming video, posted on Facebook, went viral and has been viewed more than 18,000 times.

Christine Schleif Photography
Erik Nowak surprised his daughter Imogen, 7, with a special arrival at school.

“For the next 30 to 45 minutes she wouldn’t let go of him. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house,” Leah Lindenfelser, a school counselor who helped organize the reunion, told TODAY. “It was the purest joy possible. You could just see in her face that it was pure disbelief that her dad was there.”

“My reaction was to just hold her," said Nowak, 36. "I could tell she was overwhelmed emotionally … It was happening really fast."

Courtesy of Erik Nowak
Erik Nowak and daughter Imogen, now 7, on her first day of kindergarten. When Erik Nowak surprised her at school, she couldn't let go of her dad, a school counselor said.

Nowak had tricked Imogen earlier that day, saying he wasn’t coming home for another two or three weeks. When he surprised her, "she actually looked at me up and down as if she wasn’t sure that I was really there. And then she just jumped in my arms and started crying,” he added.

"That’s what coming home is all about," said Imogen's mom, Krista Nowak. "Eric and I had our individual welcome back at the airport. But when you see a father and daughter — knowing how much she missed him, your heart just swells and you know all the hard work up until this point has been worth it when you see that look on her face.”

Courtesy of Erik Nowak
Erik Nowak says he's looking forward to doing regular activities with Imogen now that he's home.

Now that Nowak is home, he’s looking forward to chaperoning Imogen’s school field trip to the zoo on Friday, trying ice skating with her for the first time, and the simpler things — like putting Imgoen to bed at night.

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