Joseph Kern and his wife paid out of pocket to make the trip happen

By Kelli Bender
March 03, 2015 05:00 PM

Birthday surprises don’t get much sweeter than this.

Sgt. First Class Joseph Kern of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, took a break from his fifth deployment with the Army National Guard to return home for his daughter’s second birthday, reports ABC News.

Gone since June, Kern decided it was time to come home to see his wife Sarah Woldoff and two daughters, Pearl and Estelle, again.

“The military no longer has leave, so if you come home you have to pay for it out of pocket,” Woldoff told ABC News. “It was worth every dollar.”

Unbeknownst to the kids, Kern and his wife planned to have him come home for Pearl’s second birthday. The secret operation was a success. Kern returned on Thursday and his first stop was his daughters’ school.

The family videotaped Kern’s arrival and found the girls had different reactions to their dad’s homecoming. Estelle, 3, appears shocked and ecstatic to see her father again. While both of the adorable blondes run toward their parents when they enter, Pearl runs past her father.

“We were both slightly disappointed with Pearl’s response,” Woldoff said. “You never realize that they’re so young, they don’t have as much of a memory of him as we anticipated.”

Kern is planning to change that, dedicating his time at home to making fond memories with his daughters.

After shocking his kids at school, Kern went on to surprise his mom. Woldoff arranged a dinner with her mother-in-law at a local restaurant where Kern served as their waiter.

“They gave him a full uniform and kept him in the back,” Woldoff told ABC News. “My mother-in-law didn’t even realize it was him. We had to point it out. She lost it. She was in utter shock and just hysterical.”

Kern will return to his deployment on Tuesday, and while it is hard for his family to see him go, his wife is happy their children will have this surprise to fondly reflect on until their dad comes home again.