Homecoming

Shelby Dininger surprises his two boys Blake and Austin (Kade) Dininger Monday, April 22, after coming home from a nine month deployment in the Middle East. 

ONTARIO -- After months of watching "homecoming" videos of other military families, Blake and Austin (Kade) Dininger now have their own. 

Their father and active duty petroleum supply specialist in the Fourth Infantry Division, Shelby Dininger, had just completed a nine-month deployment in the Middle East for Operation Inherent Resolve, when he surprised them Monday during lunch with their mother Felicia at Stingel Elementary School.

"I haven't talked with them since I've been home. I told them my WiFi was bad, and I told them I'd been busy," Shelby said. "So I talked to them about a week ago, and as far as they know, they think I'm over there."

Felicia picked him up in Colorado, where they keep a permanent residence, last week and told the boys she'd eat lunch with them Monday. She explained that she'd fly back that morning, and her grandmother would pick her up the airport. Since she had missed them, she'd stop by Stingel Elementary School for lunch. Blake, 10, and Austin, 7, didn't have a clue of her real plan. 

"So they were expecting lunch with her, but they have no idea I'm going to sneak in, too," Shelby said, only minutes before the children's surprise.

He intended to "hug the crap out of them."

Amid a noisy cafeteria, Blake and Austin were talking with their mother over a tray of chicken nuggets, when their father walked up behind them. Shelby tapped both the boys on the shoulder. 

"Dad," the first grader, Austin exclaimed.

He was the first to react, but Blake was the first to abandon his lunch. The fourth grader jumped up to hug his father. And Shelby scooped up Austin, too. 

As students and teachers clapped and cheered, the three stood there wrapped in each others arms. Felicia watched from the other side of the table, beaming with joy.

"It was heartwarming for sure ... I was nervous, but then I was so excited when I saw him coming up, and I knew he was going to be thrilled," she said, motioning towards Blake.

She turned her gaze towards Austin, "And he actually acted more excited than I thought he would, because he's usually laid back and chill. So I didn't expect him to be so excited, but they were both really happy." 

A Louisiana native, Felicia has spent the duration of her husband's deployment in Ontario. She and the boys have stayed with her grandmother Ella Mae Hall, which is easier for them. 

She'd watched "homecoming" videos with the boys up until Christmastime, when it became too hard for them.

"She's been showing them coming home videos on YouTube and stuff, and (Blake) he'd sit there and cry and say how he missed me ... Recently, it got where he can't even watch anymore. It hurts too bad," Shelby said, with Felicia sitting nearby.

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Monday, that pain transformed into excitement. 

"It's great," Austin said.

"I agree with him," Blake interjected.

"And the most important part is we get to be as a family again," Austin continued.

The boys were looking forward to showing their father some new video games. Austin intends to show off Minecraft, and Blake wants to teach his father to play Fortnite.

"He's been saying he's going to kick my butt at Fortnite. I've never played it, so he probably will," Shelby said. 

He has about three weeks of vacation, so he and Felicia intend to take the boys traveling through the northeastern portion of the United States. They might visit Niagara Falls, Shelby said. 

Then, he'll return to Colorado Springs, Colorado and will remain there, for now. The boys and Felicia will follow at the end of the school year. 

Shelby has served in the military for five years and always wanted to surprise his boys. 

"This has been five years in the making. We just really never had the opportunity to do it, and when we found out I was coming home, we were like, oh my God, we can actually pull it off this time," Shelby said. 

He was deployed once before, but the boys were both young when he returned. Still, Blake was asking to watch YouTube videos of homecomings then. 

"Those YouTube videos are great, but you're not emotionally invested in them because it's not you, but this is something they can watch four years down the road. And they can show their kids this or something. So it's going to be a memory that doesn't ever fade," Shelby said. 

Elementary school principal Kimberly Johnson was honored to be part of the homecoming.

"I was real anxious for them, nervous because I wanted it to go well for them. But I was thankful that they included us," she said. "He said Blake wanted to do this, so this was kind of a cool way for him to kind of reach out with that dream of his. And it's so nice to see them reunited after all this time." 

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