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20130920-Soldier-Reunion-with-Son dy-041 featurePEÑITAS—Army Spc. Anthony Garza tugged down a coyote mascot uniform and joked that it smelled like fungus.

“Aren’t you glad you came to surprise your son?” his wife, Julisa Marie Garza teased as they waited with a small entourage hidden in an office hallway at Corina Peña Elementary School on Friday morning.

When Julisa Garza called the school to see if her husband, home from Ft. Hood for a few days, could surprise his son, kindergartener Anthony David Garza, she hadn’t expected the school to go all out to welcome the hometown hero. But if the gleam in her eyes was any indication, the young wife didn’t mind seeing her husband don a coyote head, readying to see his son.

Anthony Garza said he just couldn’t wait to see the smile on his son’s face when he took the mascot head off.

The two met when Julisa was 18 and he was 17. They both worked at the same retail store, he a senior at PSJA High School from San Juan, and she a recent high school graduate from the northeast. They soon were married with two children, Anthony David, 5, and Aiden Matthew, 4.

Anthony Garza joined the military in January 2011.

“I did it for my family because my wife was pregnant, “ he said. “Of course, with the difficulties that she was having, we needed something that was going to stabilize us, so I joined the military for them.”

A stable life has meant sacrifices. Anthony Garza was deployed to Iraq in August 2011 and returned in June 2012.

“The boys took it very hard. There were nightmares,” Julisa Garza said. “They missed him like crazy. Skype just wasn’t enough. Now we just go through day to day. They still talk about him constantly. They still miss him, but he’s got to do what he’s got to do for work.”

Anthony Garza said, “For the first time having to deploy, it’s an experience. I mean having to say goodbye is the hardest thing that you could possible do. I mean seeing everybody cry is not a good feeling, but I made it back home and came back to open arms. It was fantastic.”

Friday, Garza saw his sons for the first time in two and a half months. He came home at 3 a.m. and peeked in on them before going to sleep.

As the couple waited for showtime at the school later that morning, students with paper American flag hats and patriotic signs were marched into the school cafeteria for an assembly on how to be a good audience. They knew two soldiers would be present at the end, but they didn’t know who the soldiers were.

Garza was one. The other was David Stitts, a friend of Garza’s from Ft. Worth.

Once the assembly began, students were shown by five of their peers how to be a proper audience member. Anthony David was one of the demonstrators. The other four students were sent off the stage after a few minutes, and Anthony David was asked to sit in a chair.

He sat quietly with his arms in his lap as the La Joya Coyote mascot was led into the room and up onto the stage.

“Would you like to see your surprise?” a teacher asked Anthony.

“Yes!” he replied, swinging his legs excitedly.

The coyote removed his headpiece and inside was Garza.

As he kneeled down, Anthony David wrapped his arms around his dad’s neck and didn’t let go. After a few minutes, Garza picked him up. Still, his son kept his arms wrapped around his dad. Anthony David didn’t want to let go and Spc. Garza later said he didn’t either. He planned to take his family to Chuck E. Cheese and hoped for good weather for a trip to the beach.

The soldier had to return to Ft. Hood on Sunday, and he spent his 25th birthday away from his family Wednesday.

“Yeah, it’s a distance,” Anthony Garza said of his trip from Ft. Hood, “but any opportunity that I get, I’m more than willing to take it just to see my kids.”

Julisa Garza said, “The boys look up to him. For the longest time, all they said was they wanted to be a soldier just like their father.”

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DEATH NOTICE-Jean M. Johnson

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