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May 04, 2018 01:32 PM

A deployed Army dad orchestrated a special surprise for his 9-year-old daughter last month when he learned he wouldn’t be able to attend a father’s event for the little girl’s cheerleading club.

Sgt. Robert Lange, 30, initially planned to simply appear in a video sporting a t-shirt to support his daughter Mikayla as she and the Revival cheer team performed at a send-off event in Iowa before a big competition. But when he learned the other “cheer dads” would be surprising the girls with a little routine of their own, he knew he wanted to join in.

“He was going to learn the routine and Skype in and do it with them! Once some guys in his unit heard what he was planning to do, they all asked to join in and learn it together,” Madison Lange, Robert’s wife, tells PEOPLE.

Mikayla Lange
Courtesy Madison Lange

The group practiced the routine just twice, Madison says, before the big day on April 27. At the event, Mikayla cheered and laughed as the other fathers performed for their kids, but Madison, 29, says the little girl was noticeably sad that she couldn’t see her dad — as Robert has been deployed in the Middle East for six months.

“She was excited at first when all the dads came in cheering,” Madison says of Mikayla. “Then it kind of hit her, that her dad wasn’t there. She sat there for a moment, and you could tell that she was upset.”

Milkayla (left) and Robert Lange
Jenn Hoffman Photography

Mikayla’s sadness soon turned to joy when her coach called her up and gave her a bouquet of roses and several mini American flags from the other fathers in the group. Then, she directed Mikayla to a video. On the screen was her father, thousands of miles away.

“Hey, Mikayla! I’m sorry I can’t be there with you, but I can’t wait to get home and see you!” Robert said in the video before running to join his unit. They all stood poised and ready to perform the routine.

With that, the men launched into cartwheels, toe-touches and even some lifts as they appeared in a desert surrounded by military vehicles.

Madison Lange (center) with children
Courtesy Madison Lange

“When the video came on … she started crying. Then she heard the cheer music start playing and she started laughing,” Madison, of Ankeny, recalls of Mikayla. “She loved it! She was just overwhelmed … afterward she immediately texted her dad to tell him how much she loved it.”

The gesture proved to be extra special for Mikayla, who Madison says has been missing Robert. Madison and Robert also have a 4-year-old son, Joseph.

Lange family
Courtesy Madison Lange

“It stresses her a little, but she has so much support from her cheer gym and her school. Robert always calls into her cheer competitions and he FaceTimes and watches the competition and congratulates her when she’s done,” Madison says of her husband, adding that he and Mikayla are “best friends.”

“She’s a mini him. She wants to be just like him. She wants to be in the army,” she adds. “That’s her complete hero. He would do anything for his kids, they come first. Even though he’s not physically here, he makes an impact on [his kids] every day.”

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