Father returns to family in time for Thanksgiving (Video)
She stood pressed against the storm door, looking outside, leaving fingerprints and traces of glitter from her red, white and blue tutu on the fogged-up glass.
Not quite 2, Raegan Daughtrey woke up at 6 a.m. to wait for the father she knows only through Skype and pictures to come home early Thanksgiving morning.
"Dada," she said, pointing to the framed photo of AC2 (AW) Adam Daughtrey in his Navy uniform.
Daughtrey left Victoria for Kuwait on Jan. 2 - his third deployment since 1996. He trained as an air traffic controller and worked as a customs border agent on his most recent deployment.
Raegan knows who she is waiting for, explained Stacy Parham, friend of the Daughtreys and babysitter of the excited children while their mother, Shannon Daughtrey, drove to pick up Adam Daughtrey from Corpus Christi.
"Being a single parent, that is the hardest part," Shannon Daughtrey said. "Having that support system of daddy not being here, that was the hardest part. And being away from the love of my life ... Every day was hard; every day was a challenge."
Which is why she and the six kids, ages 1 to 20, planned a surprise party for the homecoming sailor, decorating their front yard with American flags and making signs for the children to hold when he pulled up.
Thomas, 7, and William, 8, started crying when they saw the family van emerge from the foggy road at 7:30 a.m.
The kids, neatly situated on a red, white and blue blanket in the middle of the lawn, immediately started to jump up, forgetting about their signs and hollering for daddy.
Raegan walked hesitantly over to her dad, who waited, crouched down to toddler-height, to see his baby girl walk for the first time.
"I had to watch them grow up on Skype. ... Before I left, I saw my 1-year-old daughter take her first step, and now that I'm coming back, she is walking all over the place," he said. "She had her first meal, her first things that a lot of other parents are able to see. My kids lost their first teeth. They were able to graduate elementary and go to junior high - there were just so many things that I had to miss or I had to actually watch it on Skype."
Daughtrey said he will continue to serve his country but as a reservist. He hopes this will be his last deployment because the long separation is hard on his family.
"What I missed about him was he didn't get to see me," said Thomas, breaking into tears again. "He can see me (now), and he can see if I have two more loose teeth. Now, we get to play with each other."
Daughtrey wants his family to be proud of him, he said, and he wants to be directly involved in their lives.
He said he will never forget getting to see all of them after almost a yearlong separation.
"She (Raegan) was kind of skittish about the whole thing, but I was able to grab her and hold her and hug her - it was amazing," Daughtrey said. "The feeling of actually seeing her for the first time - that was the way I felt when I saw her today."