When U.S. Navy Senior Chief Michael Mayerhofer walked into Miller Elementary School's library, his three kids, who had not seen him for seven months, sat there in shock.
"Hey," Mayerhofer said with a big smile on his face, pointing to his children sitting in a sea of othersas they listened to the teacher read. "I know you."
"Hi daddy," one of them yelled, and all three of them -- Dylan, McKenna and William -- came rushing to hug him.
After seven months in the Arabian Gulf on deployment, Mayerhofer surprised his three kids at Miller Elementary School in Escondido, just in time for the holidays.
Mayerhofer said he has been on four big deployments in his 18 years with the Navy, but it never gets easier.
"Well, I think it's pretty hard on them," he said of his children. "I think it effects them in ways they maybe don't know."
He spoke to his wife and children at various points throughout the trip as the vessel pulled into foreign ports, and said his trick to deployment was falling into a routine.
"We just get through it," he said. "I think when they look back when they get older...they'll just be proud their father was in the Navy."
In the past seven months, he missed every single one of their birthdays, including his wife's birthday. They missed his birthday.
"I missed my wife and my kids but you know what? We got through it and I'm back home now and I'm ready to see my kids for the first time, so they should be very excited about it."
Mayerhofer said he missed assemblies, awards, and many everyday things as well -- but felt lucky to have seen videos.
"That touches my heart a little bit more than anything else, is seeing the videos of them and them just doing what they're supposed to be doing while I'm gone," he said.
It was his first time surprising his kids, and he said he had butterflies in his stomach and was a bit nervous before walking into the library, where the teacher had pre-arranged to read to many kids to get them all in the same place.
"I expect them to be full of excitement and full of questions," he said.
When his kids ran up to him and hugged him, all the other kids in the room let out a collective "awww."
"I'm home," he told his kids, kissing his daughter's head.