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.”