Staff Sgt. Josh Stultz, seeing his kids for the first time in 10 months, cried as he held them in his arms, the teddy bears he brought them forgotten on the floor while in their dad’s arms.
Standing with Josie, 2, and Jacob, who turns 3 on Monday, their mother Julie Stultz said her husband has been stationed in Okinawa since February. Originally they’d planned the surprise for home, but a friend suggested she surprise the kids as they sat with Santa.
On the way to the mall, Jacob told his mother he just wanted “Dada home” for Christmas.
Waiting in line before the surprise, Josie and Jacob inched toward the large purple throne where Santa sat, hands out grabbing toward the man in the red suit. Julie Stultz walked them over and put Josie on Santa’s right, keeping Josh on her lap beside Santa.
Walking slowly with a teddy bear in each hand, Josh Stultz waited until his wife turned Josie and Jacob’s attention toward their dad, and Jacob immediately started getting down from his mother’s lap.
Josh Stultz wrapped an arm around each of his children and audibly wept.
Each child gave their father a kiss, and after Josh Stultz stood with Josie in his arms, Santa got up and embraced the Marine.
After Josh Stultz and his wife reunited, the family sat down on either side of Santa for a Christmas photo, and the family walked out of Santa’s area with shoppers and other parents in line with their children clapping, a few thanking Josh Stultz for his service.
Before seeing her husband, Julie Stultz said she felt nervous. Her husband said he felt the same way.
When first asked how he was feeling, Josh Stultz had no words. He teared up again and hugged his daughter closer to him.
The parents said they felt overwhelmed, excited and happy now, and Josh Stultz thanked everyone who played a part in making the surprise happen.
Josh Stultz will be with his family until Jan. 4 and is able to spend Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and his son’s birthday with them.
When asked what they’ll do to celebrate, Josh Stultz said he wants to go see Christmas lights with his family and “just spend as much time with them as I can.”