Seven-year-old Ariana Ferguson, of Dyer, received the unexpected joy of having her father home for Christmas this year.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mike Ferguson surprised his daughter with a visit to her school Friday.
For Phillip Kuiper, of Lowell, this Christmas will be the first without son Josh, who is serving with the U.S. Marine Corps off the coast of Okinawa.
"Christmas is going to be totally different this year," Kuiper said. "It will be just the three of us this time."
Though Phillip, wife, Sherri, and daughter, Brooke, won't be together with Josh, 24, they'll do the next best thing. The family will stay in touch by computer.
"We're fortunate we live in the age of technology," Phillip Kuiper said.
Ariana's mother, Kate Biehl, of Dyer, arranged with Protsman Elementary School staff and her daughter's second-grade teacher for Mike Ferguson to surprise his daughter at school.
Ferguson, an Army recruiter living in Illinois, will be stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C., starting next month.
He came to Northwest Indiana to take Ariana to his parents' home outside St. Louis for Christmas.
"We're going to go bowling, open presents and enjoy Christmas," Mike Ferguson said.
Lifelong Lowell residents, the Kuipers still are adjusting to being part of a military family.
"We're still learning," Phillip said.
Josh Kuiper set his sights on the Marine Corps while still in high school and never wavered, his father said.
When the time came for Josh to join, "we all made the decision together," Phillip said.
Josh Kuiper was awarded a Marine Corps scholarship to Purdue University, and after graduation received training further training in Quantico, Va.
Now based in Okinawa, he likely will spend Christmas patrolling somewhere in the Pacific, Phil said.
The family plans to be home Christmas Eve before heading to a late-night church service.
Sometime during the evening, or on Christmas Day, they hope to make contact with their son using a computer download for face-to-face phone calls.
"That would be our hope," Phillip Kuiper said. "That would kind of make that night for us, if we're able to connect with him on Christmas."