Generally speaking, “surprise” and “school lunch” are not welcome together in a sentence— more often than not, they conjure up images of mystery casseroles or jello salads.

Not Monday, though. At least not for two Jefferson Elementary School students, Edyn and Lilliana Boston. The kindergarten and first-grade sisters got the best kind of surprise — their dad.

U.S. Army Cpl. Xaver Boston surprised his daughters in the Jefferson cafeteria Monday, the first time he’d seen the girls in nearly a year. Boston returned home Saturday from an 11-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Just after 11 a.m. Cpl. Boston walked through the doors to the cafeteria — full of students wearing red, white and blue — and toward the shocked, then elated faces of his two young daughters.

As he picked them up, hugging each girl close and spinning them around, the cafeteria erupted: “Welcome home Cpl. Boston!”

“I was just telling them how much I loved them, how much I missed them,” he said a few minutes later, standing at one side of the noisy lunch room as kids returned to their sandwiches while family members and teachers stood nearby, wiping away tears.

Boston said he couldn’t get over how big the girls had gotten, either. A year is a long time for kids at this age.

Lilliana is “six and three-quarters” and Edyn is “three. No, five.”

“I feeling so happy,” said Lilliana. “I don’t even know how to explain it.”

“I missed him so much,” said Edyn, holding onto her big sister.

Having him home is a big relief to the whole family, said Boston’s mom, who was also there on Monday to watch her granddaughters be reunited with their dad.

“My heart is so light and happy, words can’t describe it,” said Flora Boston. “We could Face(Time), but it’s not the same and getting to hold him.”

This was Boston’s first combat deployment. He was in Kabul as part of a 10-man protective service detail team for Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser, commander of the Combi ned Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, which develops Afghan security forces. The team facilitated Kaiser’s movements and provided security, Boston said.

“You put your boots on and do your mission and not to think about the days,” he said. “You take it day by day.”

The girls weren’t the only ones to get a surprise. Amanda Boston was expecting her husband home Sunday. Imagine her shock when he walked through the door a day early.

“He told me he was coming home yesterday, but he came Saturday,” she said. “He surprised me, too.”

Their daughters stayed with their grandparents all weekend, so Cpl. Boston could surprise them at school. Amanda and the school’s principal, Debbie McIntyre, set up everything else.

Ahead of the visit, McIntyre called every family — except for the Bostons — and told them to wear red, white and blue to school Monday.

“We thought it was just a great way to honor him and the service he did for our country,” McIntyre said.

With the whole family finally home, Cpl. Boston said they’re all planning to take a hike and just looking forward to spending time together.

Perhaps Lilliana said it best: “We’re going to do lots of fun stuff.”

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