WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – A second grader at Whispering Oak Elementary School was surprised Friday afternoon when his father, who was deployed overseas, returned home in time for the holidays.
Chase Phillips, 7, was waiting for this day for a long time. At first he didn’t recognize his father, Lt. Steve Phillips, when he walked into the school’s media center in his uniform, but that quickly changed.
The father and son embraced for a long time. They were then joined by Phillips’ youngest son, 4-year-old Jack.
“I thought he was going to come home tomorrow cause that’s what my mom said, but he actually came home today,” Chase Phillips said.
Lt. Phillips is a reserve officer with the Navy. He left his family nine months ago and was deployed to the Middle East where he served as a logistics officer. This was Phillips first deployment and the longest he’s ever been away from his family.
Phillips said he video messaged them as often as he could, but nothing beats seeing them in real life.
"It's just priceless. You go from two dimensional to three dimensional and you can't replace family," Phillips said.
Chase wasn’t the only one surprised. Phillips’ second family, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, was also there to welcome the soldier back home. Phillips is a corporal with the agency and works in the recruiting department.
"To come back home to my family and my sheriff's office family here, it's a great honor and I'm very flattered. Thank you so much. It means a lot," Phillips said.
His wife, Julie Phillips, said she never thought this day would come. She adds she is thankful to have her husband back and is grateful for the outpouring of love and support.
"With his heart he serves his country and his community and he absolutely loves what he does for a living," she said.
Phillips said he is looking forward to spending the holidays home with his family and reconnecting with his sons.
"Just play. I'm sure build a lot of Legos," he said.
Chase adds he is "super duper duper duper duper duper happy" his dad is home and has no plans on letting him go anytime soon.
“Hug him until life is over,” Chase said.