As the war in Afghanistan continues to wind down, more and more of our men and women in uniform are coming home. About 60 members of the Iowa Army National Guard returned home to Camp Dodge in Johnston Saturday.
One of those soldiers kept his homecoming a secret from his Eldridge family until Sunday night. Fox 18 was able to tag along for that very special reunion.
First Lieutenant Brent Kilburg had been away from his family for nearly a year.
He says the days were long and the work was hard while he was in Afghanistan, but being able to surprise his four kids Sunday night made it all worth it.
"Alright, who ordered taco pizza?" Kilburg announced, laughing, as he walked into the dining room at Happy Joe's restaurant in Eldridge, where his family was eating dinner.
The soldier's children were shocked, and basically stunned speechless.
Waiting in the wings elsewhere in the restaurant, the place was packed with Kilburg's friends and family, welcoming him home.
But, while they were all in on the surprise, his kids thought it was going to be just another normal trip to the pizza parlor.
They knew their dad was coming home soon - just not this soon.
Kilburg and his wife had been planning the surprise for a while, and say they're shocked their kids never suspected a thing:
"I was probably the most nervous one here, I think," Kilburg laughed. "Just hoping it went off without a hitch and everything went fine."
"Well, I didn't even know this was happening. And before this I just wanted to hug him...and that's what happened," his daughter, Anne Kilburg said, her voice choked with emotion.
His kids say one of the things they're most looking forward to is having their dad tuck them into bed, now that he's finally home.
The last time the family was all together in one place was in August 2012, before 1LT Kilburg left for training at Fort Food in Texas and then deployed to Afghanistan.
He was serving as a battle captain with the Iowa Army National Guard's 1034th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Afghanistan. Part of the unit's mission was to coordinate transportation and maintenance at its base.
Kilburg says the mission was a success and that everyone in his unit who was there made it home safely.