NEW ORLEANS-- While thousands of U.S. troops remain deployed overseas, some are now beginning to come home, as troops are drawn down from the war in Afghanistan. Today, one Marine reservist returned home to New Orleans early and gave his three children a very special surprise.
In a classroom at Holy Name of Jesus School, fifth grader Marigny Heller has no idea who is about to walk through the door.
"Dad! What are you doing here?" she exclaimed as she jumped up to greet her Dad.
After six months deployed to the Republic of Georgia, First Sgt. Vincent Heller is back home, several months earlier than his children expected.
"The first thing that ran through my mind was, 'why is he home and how long is he going to be here?'" said Gus Heller, his son and a seventh grader at the school.
Sgt. Heller's youngest son, Jack, who is in second grade was equally surprised.
"[It's] really exciting because we haven't seen him for a long time," he said.
All three of Sgt. Heller's children attend Holy Name of Jesus School, which helped pull off the triple surprise.
"I just thought it'd be a neat thing to do-- surprise them, make the focus on these guys, not me," Sgt. Heller said.
Sgt. Heller returned from his third deployment, this time he trained Georgian battalions, who will assist the Afghan Army, as the U.S. begins to draw down troops in Afghanistan. Nearly 7,000 miles separated Sgt. Heller from his family since August. His wife found out he would be coming home early several weeks ago.
"He said, 'I'd really like to surprise the kids. I'd like to show up and pick them up from school and have it be unexpected,' said his wife, Sherry Heller.
It was a tough secret to keep, but she managed to do so.
"I didn't know he was coming home early and i was just so happy to see him," said Marigny Heller, Sgt. Heller's daughter. "It was so amazing."
As for the best part about coming back, Sgt. Heller said it was just about being home.
While in the Republic of Georgia, Sgt. Heller earned a Navy Commendation Medal for helping save the life of a man, who had been in a horse-drawn cart that was hit by a car. He and several dozen other Marines also spent their weekends at a Georgian orphanage, helping with repairs and playing with the children there.