US Army Staff Sergeant Byron Yates, a father of five from Pinellas County, FL, had not seen his children since he was deployed to Syria a year ago. With 13 years of military service and three deployments under his belt, Byron and his wife, Samantha, opted to give their little ones the ultimate surprise: a sweet family reunion at Disney World.
Under the impression that their father was coming home in March, the five Yates kiddos were absolutely shocked to see him in January. Samantha and Byron enlisted the help of Gainesville-based photographer Shannon Fries to capture the emotional moment, and the resulting shots are absolutely wholesome.
"It felt like hours waiting there and then I just felt him behind me."
"The homecoming was better than I could have ever imagined," Samantha told POPSUGAR. "We were able to get Cinderella's stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella, in on the surprise. We usually visit Disney twice a week and seeing them is a must for the kids, so getting them to help was amazing. That way we didn't do anything out of the norm. Shannon took the most incredible pictures of our family that we will cherish for a lifetime! The kids were super surprised, they had no idea. I planned it with him so I knew, but it felt like hours waiting there and then I just felt him behind me, and the kids turned after Shannon told them someone else was in the picture."
As you can imagine, it was an incredibly emotional moment for the five children. "My oldest son started crying and went to hug his dad. Our oldest daughter turned around and instantly began crying and covering her face, she was so shocked that he was home. She didn't move towards him for what seemed like minutes until he put out his arms to hug her," Samantha recalled. "She continued to just hug him and cry."
While Samantha and Bryon's three younger kids reacted more mildly, the Yates family was delighted to be reunited again. "After the initial surprise, we took pictures and the kids kept asking if this was real," Samantha said. Scroll through to get a look at this family's touching reunion that's chock-full of cast members!