CHINO (CBS) — A Navy petty officer returned from her deployment a little early to surprise a VIP – her 9-year-old daughter.

First Class Petty Officer Toni Debem, who had been at sea since July 2011, tapped her daughter’s shoulder as she sat with her third-grade class at Rhodes Elementary School in Chino.

Nadia turned and squealed when she saw who had tapped her on the shoulder.

“Mommy!” Nadia said, jumping out of her chair and into her mother’s arms. Nadia buried her face into her mother’s neck and started crying. “I miss you!”

Debem had been scheduled to return to San Diego with her ship, the USS John C. Stennis, but she returned a few days early.

“I missed you too baby,” Debem said, rubbing her daughter’s back.

Debem had been at sea since last July and could only keep up with her family — which includes her husband, Michael, and a 16-month-old son — via phone calls, email and Skype.

“It’s heartbreaking. You guys saw my son – he doesn’t really remember me,” Debem said, pausing to sniffle. “My daughter’s 9. I missed a lot.”

“Sometimes at the end of Skype, I cry because I really missed her,” Nadia said.

Debem has been with the Navy for 14 years, and this past deployment was her third tour. She says emailing with her family helped her get through it.

“I’d get these emails that says, ‘Hi momma, I love you’” Debem said. “And it just tears you up.”

Comments (19)
  1. Bob Higgins says:

    WHY is a mother of young children, off fighting in this ridiculous war a half a world away?!?!? When she finally steps down from her duties, her daughter(s) will either be in college or married. WHY do women with young children, go off to fight in these ridiculous skirmishes, instead of staying home and being mothers to their daughters?!?!??! Something’s wrong with this picture!

    1. Rooney says:

      I agree with you Bob. I could never be away from my children. You make a choice, be with your children or don’t have any.

    2. Theresa M says:

      The same can be said for fathers of children…but we send them off to serve, also. Fathers are just as crucial in the upbringing of children as mothers are. Sadly, someone must serve…not just non-parents…lets at least hope the father was CONUS with the children while mom was OCONUS.

    3. kachonka says:

      Ever take in to consideration there are CAREER military that didn’t have children when they committed themselves to the service they continue?

    4. IR says:

      You don’t know this person personally and I do and I can tell you she does what she has to do for her family! She does her duty and serves her country with pride! What’s wrong with this picture is that you are an ignorant male chauvinist pig who probably has not had the honor to serve his country and make the sacrifices that she made so people like you can speak their mind.

      1. Bob Higgins says:

        I’ve made more sacrifices for my country than you’ll ever know. It’s time to stop taking part in these ridiculous “skirmishes” and start taking care of our own in OUR OWN COUNTRY. WHY are we sending troops into areas where we’re not wanted or appreciated. This is not a war….it’s a bunch of BS where we’re not wanted. It’s time that we stop sacrificing our (mostly) young lives in the name of personal skirmishes created by the Cheney/Bush administration. It’s time to bring our troops home and return so many parents back to their children. Let the idiots over there fight their own battles! It’s time to stop spending TRILLIONS on useless battles that only benefit the buddies of the rich friends of the last administration that nearly destroyed our country. I’m NOT against America…only an intelligent American who realizes what we have to do to restore our country to the greatness that we deserve.

    5. Stephanie says:

      Bob you better wake your dumb ass up everyday and be thankful for the blanket of freedom this woman provides you with every night. Mr. Draft dodger

      1. Bob Higgins says:

        yes, I’m shaking in my boots by all the damage that the cave-dwellers are going to do to our well-armed country. There are wars for a reason, and wars for the greedy arms dealers and profiteers (like Cheney’s employer Halliburten). Get real. Haven’t we lost enough young lives (and severely harmed so many others) over this BS?

  2. Jason navy vet says:

    An officer and a petty officer in the US Navy are two totally seperate things. If your a petty officer your NOT an officer

    1. Theresa M says:

      Exactly. Petty Officer is enlisted. Officers are NOT enlisted.

  3. Lisa R. says:

    So instead of giving credit to this Navy petty officer for serving our country you slam her for being away from her children. You must not know what it is like to serve your country in such a selfless manner. I am proud myself to be a woman who served our country in the Navy for 20 years. And yes I made sacrifices and my family made sacrifices but there were no regrets. You sir need to get with the times and realize that women have just as much right to serve our country as men!

    1. Rooney says:

      Then don’t get pregnant and put your children through that. That’s shameful. I feel for the little girl. I appreciate the woman’s service but make a choice, mom or military!

    2. Jessy says:

      Don’t worry Lisa, these three idiots are nothing but losers. Just because a woman has kids doesn’t mean she shouldn’t do what she feels is right. I don’t see why they think it’s ok for a man with kids to leave but not a woman. Good job Lisa!

  4. candace says:

    I know this woman, mother, daughter & wife she is a very special person her heart is huge. I see nothing wrong with her choices she not only protects the country but she protects her family… She is a woman to look up to and to honor not beat up, She stays in contact with her family at all times its not like she’s a dead beat mother she didn’t run out on her children. You people are being disrespectful why because she is a mother? Why can’t she get the same respect that a father in service would get? Why cause are role as woman are to sit home, I’m sorry but times have changed… So instead of trash talking you should be saying thank you for what you do for are country, for us and our families…. Thank You Girl for what you do and welcome home can’t wait to see you receive your award XOXO love you

  5. N C D says:

    First, and probably MOST importantly, my friend, the First Class Petty Officer featured in this article, every single day, defends the US Constitution and the Rights we have as Americans, so that you can have the freedom to unnecessarily post your sexist comments, But what you should know or take a few quiet moments to think about is that her daughter is PROUD of her mother. Her family supports her selfless dedication to her country and her committment to the Oath she took.
    I am grateful the local news took the opportunity to share this with thier viewers. America should be proud of the allegiance and valor embedded in the Sailors, Soildiers, Airmen and Marines whom are parents first. Your thought process is misguided. Her children, and all the other children of Servicemembers, do not resent thier parents obligation. They instead learn the true meaning of patriotism and keeping their word. The parents have not waived their responsibilty of parenthood. They are teaching their children the definition of citizenship in the United States of America.

    On a personal note, you have no idea the sacrifices this Sailor makes everyday for her family.

  6. EJR says:

    Thank you for serving. I respect and deeply appreciate the sacrifice you make for my family, by serving as you do.

  7. Marie Kinworthy says:

    I served with Ms. Debem on the USS Eisenhower, and there are several women who sacrifice their families to protect and serve this Country! The sexist comments made in the earlier postings are ridicuously funny! Yes women do serve. Why is it okay for a man to have children and leave his family to serve, but a woman cant? Get over it its the 21st century! We love you Toni!

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