Military Dad Surprises His Son at School in 'Heartwarming' Reunion Video: 'It Meant Everything'
A 10-year-old boy received the surprise of a lifetime when his dad, who had been deployed overseas, showed up at his New Mexico elementary school.
Chief Master Sergeant Rubel Tafoya tells PEOPLE that getting to reunite with his son Tyler on Monday turned out to be everything he could have imagined and more.
"It meant everything," Tafoya says. "I know [Tyler] had been really missing me and he cried when he hugged me."
As shown in a video posted on Rio Rancho Public School's Facebook page, Tyler — who turns 11 next month — had no idea his father had returned home.
In the video, while Tyler takes a photo with a teacher in front of an open doorway, his dad suddenly appears behind him and quietly poses for the shot. After snapping the photo, the teacher can be seen reviewing it with Tyler — which is when he notices that his dad had somehow made a surprise cameo.
Confused, Tyler looks behind him to an empty, dark doorway and then back at the phone screen. Tafoya then appears from the room, slowly inching his way closer to his son until Tyler turns around and rushes into his arms.
The two shared a long embrace in the hallway and later posed for photos outside the school's sign, which read, "Welcome Home CMSGT Tafoya. Thank you for your service!"
In the caption of the video, the school wrote, "With chilly weather moving into Rio Rancho, it is the perfect time for something heartwarming. Check out this great video showing one of our Sandia Vista Elementary School students getting a welcome home surprise from his military dad."
Reflecting on the happy moment, Tafoya, who has been in the service for 25 years, tells PEOPLE that he was "very excited and anxious" before the surprise but felt thrilled afterward.
"It felt great," he recalls. "I was relieved, and happy he wasn't without me anymore."
According to Miranda Jeantete, the Principal of Sandia Vista Elementary School, Tafoya was the one who came up with the idea to surprise Tyler and initiated it by reaching out to his teacher, Mrs. Perez.
"She immediately asked if it would be okay. We were so excited and honored to help him surprise Tyler," Jeantete says. "Mrs. Perez knew that Tyler's dad was overseas. As a retired United States Air Force veteran herself, she knew the importance of receiving letters while away from family and friends, so at the beginning of the school year, all of the students in Tyler's class wrote letters to CMSGT Tafoya."
On Sunday night, Tafoya emailed the staff to let them know he'd be at the school the next day around 2 p.m., Jeantete says.
"I asked the teacher if we could have his dad 'appear' in a picture. She loved the idea and we shared it with Tyler's parents when they arrived at school," she recalls. "Everyone was very excited."
The emotional video has now been viewed on Facebook thousands of times — something Jeantete believes is due to the clip's "positive" nature.
"This has been a very challenging time in the world right now. As a society, we tend to focus on all the negative that is happening around us," she explains. "Videos like this are a reminder that even when we are experiencing difficult circumstances they are always positive reminders and celebrations of the good in the world. This is one of them."
"We are so grateful for our military service members and the family members that are at home while they are serving our nation," she adds.
RELATED VIDEO: Military Dad Surprises Son In Trunk After Returning Home
Now back home, with the potential of being deployed again in five years, Tafoya says he plans on soaking up every moment he can with his son and the rest of his family.
"Tyler and I are very close, he's my mini-me," he says. "I'm taking him and my daughter Lilliana, who is 14, to Disneyland and I also will be visiting family in Los Angeles."
As for what he hopes people will take from his sweet reunion?
"Spend as much time as you can with family and kids, especially if you're military," he says. "You will not experience truly missing your family until you get sent to locations outside the U.S. doing 'military duties.' "
- Michelle Young Says She's 'Excited' to See Clayton Echard as the New Bachelor: 'Just So Kind'
- Snow Much Fun! See Which Singing Stars Stopped by PEOPLE's Jingle Ball L.A. Portrait Studio on Friday Night
- Braunwyn Windham-Burke Kisses Model Victoria Brito in Miami: RHOC Alum Is 'Smitten,' Source Says
- Amazing Race Winners Will Jardell and James Wallington Wed Exactly 3 Years After Engagement