December 8, 2018

The great men and women who serve in the military understand the sacrifices involved in such a commitment. They go in knowing full well that it often means missing out on family milestones and important occasions.

“I’ve been in the active duty force for 17 years,” U.S. Army Major Brett Lea told Inside Edition. “Everybody in the Army who has kids and has a spouse, they know you miss things and, you know, you take advantage of the time that you have.”

The major hadn’t seen his daughter Claudia since Christmas, and had been stationed in Grafenwohr Army Base in Germany—over 4,400 miles from their home in West Virginia.

However, Claudia was about to graduate from Marshall University that spring, with a degree in communications, and so Brett and his wife decided to hatch a secret plan so that they could celebrate the occasion as a family.

They planned to ask the university president to read a letter, written by Brett, during the graduation ceremony, in front of Claudia and the 5,000 other graduates, and then prepare to show a video made especially for her.

The president was more than happy to go along with it.

So, on the big day, all seemed to go according to plan; Claudia was asked to stand while the president read the letter in front of everyone. Then he prepared to show the video—except there was an unexpected delay, as they appeared to be having technical difficulties. So, they waited.

Suddenly, people began to clap and cheer, though Claudia didn’t know why, at first. She supposed it was because the video was starting. But that wasn’t the reason.

Then she saw that it was her dad, Major Brett Lea, in full uniform, who had come out from behind the bleachers into the crowd, and he was headed right for her. He had made the trip without telling her, even though they’d been planning it for months. They embraced, and Claudia cried.

“People started cheering and clapping,” Claudia said. “That’s when I looked to my right and saw him, ‘cause everyone else […] reacted before I did.”

The communications grad wasn’t surprised by her dad’s plan, though. “With him, I expect nothing less. He has always done everything he can for us. So, honestly, it’s like the most ‘dad’ thing to do of him.”

Major Lea’s commanding officer also had something to do with it. He had encouraged Major Lea to make the trip, even though it would be for as short as 72 hours. Brett stayed until Saturday before departing back for Germany.

“This is probably the most significant event of her life so far … that’s something I would do anything to be at,” the father said. “It really was something special.”

Watch the video below: