RIVERSIDE (CBSLA.com) It started out as a typical Monday for one sixth-grader at John F. Kennedy Elementary School.

Little did Payton Stephen know, her father — Chief Warrant Officer Darrell Stephen — who just got back after serving eight months in Afghanistan, had plans to surprise her at school.

During lunch period, Payton looked up and squealed when she saw her dad standing in front of her.

CBS2’s Tom Wait was there to capture the reunion on camera.

“I didn’t think he was going to get home for Christmas with like 10 days left,” Payton said. “It was really surprising to me.”

Darrell explained his daughter had been text messaging him, asking if he would make it home in time to celebrate Christmas. He said he was unsure because they don’t give exact travel dates.

“I was really, really hoping everything was going to fall into place, and I could get home for Christmas and surprise her,” Darrell Stephen said.

After actively serving in the military for 20 years, Darrell received a Christmas wish of his own: He does not have to return overseas to serve.

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