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Father surprises children at Rockland school assembly after 10-month National Guard deployment

Michael Leone, recently returned home from a 10-month deployment, embraced his children after surprising them at a school assembly.
Michael Leone, recently returned home from a 10-month deployment, embraced his children after surprising them at a school assembly.Rockland Public Schools

Three Rockland brothers were surprised by their father, who had just returned home from a 10-month National Guard deployment overseas, during an assembly at their elementary school Friday afternoon.

Sergeant Michael Leone, a member of the Army National Guard, had been deployed in Somalia since February on his second tour of duty, according to a statement from Rockland Public Schools. His three sons attend R. Stewart Esten Elementary School.

During the school’s monthly community awards assembly in the gymnasium, principal Marilyn Smith called up Leone’s children, 5-year-old Nathan, 6-year-old Tolan, and 8-year-old Tyler, to take a picture with the Rockland bulldog mascot to send to their father overseas. After the photo, Leone removed the head of the mascot costume to reveal that he was the one inside.

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“People were screaming, teachers were crying, everything played out exactly how I had hoped,” Smith said in the statement.

Brittany Leone, the children’s mother, recently approached Smith to organize a surprise for the boys. When the assembly was postponed from Tuesday to Friday because of the weather, “it all just came together perfectly,” Smith said.

Michael Leone said in the statement that this deployment was even harder than his first because it was so long and his sons would ask when he would be coming home.

“You see stories on the news about surprises like this, but to be a part of one is tough to describe,” he said. “It hit me yesterday that it was finally happening, and you don’t know what kinds of emotions you’re going to experience. Now that it’s all over it’s awesome to be able to look forward to spending the holidays with them.”

Tyler, the oldest son, said he had no idea who the bulldog was.

“When he took his costume off we were all confused at first, but then we realized it was our dad,” he said in the statement. “He was finally home.”

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The surprise was caught on video.


Maria Lovato can be reached at maria.lovato@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @maria_lovato99.