HENAGAR, Ala. (WHNT) -- Cecilia and Stephanie Gifford did not know what to expect at an afternoon school assembly. They only prepared for singing "God Bless the USA."
Then their father, Army Specialist Stephen Gifford, walked into the school gymnasium.
"I thought we were just going to sing and that would be it," 8-year-old Cecilia said.
"I saw him walking in, and I was so glad, I went running up and was hugging him."
Specialist Gifford enlisted in the Army four years ago, fulfilling a life-long dream.
"I've always wanted to since I was little. I got married when I was younger, I had my kids and when they got older I said I have to do it now," he said.
"I wanted to provide for them, support them, and let them see that they can do whatever they want, no matter what it is, only if they put their mind to it."
He deployed Summer 2012 to Qatar, where he worked on security force missions.
"We did base security, site security, we had a secret site where we had to ensure all threats were eliminated, basically deterred them before they ever tried anything," he said.
Six-year-old Stephanie said she is eager for "Daddy and girl dates", and even though her three-year-old brother Samuel heard her say that, he didn't seem to mind.
He kept repeating one phrase over and over. "He's home," Samuel said. "He is home."
DeKalb County superintendent Hugh Taylor and Henagar principal Stevie Green presented Gifford and his wife Christina with a plaque thanking them for service and sacrifice.
The soldier said the school's display overwhelmed him more than anything else.
"Just to have the support of the community and the school, having them all behind me this whole time has been a real help with my wife and everything, with the three kids by herself. They've all pitched in and helped support us while I've been off supporting them," he said.