Karisma and Phillip Gallardo of Covington, Ky., are sister and brother, ages 12 and 11. They knew they were in for a treat when they got to attend a local hockey game with their whole family Saturday night.
What they did not know is that the one member of their family missing - their father, Army Sgt. First Class Phillip Gallardo - would be there too.
Karisma and Phillip were brought down to the ice at the Cincinnati Cyclops game by a member of the team's marketing department. They thought they had been selected from the crowd to drop the ceremonial puck at the start of their game. Instead, their father, whom they had not seen in over one year, dropped a surprise on them by walking out onto the ice.
"It was outstanding," Gallardo, just back from an approximately one-year deployment in Afghanistan, told ABCNews.com. "They were very excited."
While Gallardo and his children shone in the spotlight on Saturday night, it was actually the other woman on the ice, Gallardo's ex-wife and the kids' mother, Fawn, who put the surprise reunion together.
She got the idea after Karisma let it be known that she wanted a big surprise when her father returned, just like the other soldiers' families she saw featured on TV and online.
"I'd planned on getting tickets to the [Cyclones] game on Saturday," said Fawn Gallardo. "When I found out that he was flying in on Saturday, I thought, 'It doesn't get any better than that."
Fawn turned to Google to search for a contact at the Cyclones. She found one in the team's marketing department who was more than game to pull off the surprise.
"It happened so fast," she said. "Let's just say I called on Monday and it happened on Saturday."
The kids, who mostly communicated with their father through Facebook during his deployment, thought they would be seeing their dad next month, during their spring break from school.
"They just truly thought it was a Cyclones game," Fawn said. "From our seats all the way down to the floor they argued about who was doing to the puck drop. They were definitely surprised."
Since the reunion, Gallardo, Karisma and Phillip have made up for lost time and are leaving today for an overnight trip, just the three of them, at a nearby lodge. Gallardo will visit with them in Kentucky through March 19 before returning to duty at his base in Ft. Riley, Kansas, at the end of this month.
"It was extra nice to be able to surprise them," he said. The best part was just being able to come out on the ice and to see their reaction when they saw me coming out."
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