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Kristin McKenzie and her kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake posed for photos as a white SUV pulled up in the background.
Kristin McKenzie and her kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake posed for photos as a white SUV pulled up in the background. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Kristin McKenzie and her kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake posed for photos as a white SUV pulled up in the background.
Kristin McKenzie and her kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake posed for photos as a white SUV pulled up in the background. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Kristin McKenzie and her kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake posed for photos as a white SUV pulled up in the background.
Kristin McKenzie and her kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake posed for photos as a white SUV pulled up in the background. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie gets ready to surprise his family during a photo shoot. Kristin McKenzie poses for photos with their kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake.
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie gets ready to surprise his family during a photo shoot. Kristin McKenzie poses for photos with their kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie gets ready to surprise his family during a photo shoot as wife Kristin McKenzie poses for photos with their kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake.
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie gets ready to surprise his family during a photo shoot as wife Kristin McKenzie poses for photos with their kids (left to right) Grey, Lawton and Blake. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Kristin McKenzie knows what's coming as her husband Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie gets ready to surprise their kids during a photo shoot. She's posing (left to right) with Grey, Lawton and Blake.
Kristin McKenzie knows what's coming as her husband Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie gets ready to surprise their kids during a photo shoot. She's posing (left to right) with Grey, Lawton and Blake. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie gets ready to surprise his family during a photo shoot.
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie gets ready to surprise his family during a photo shoot. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie reunites with his family after a deployment to Quatar.
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie reunites with his family after a deployment to Quatar. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie prepares to reunite with his family after a deployment to Quatar.
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie prepares to reunite with his family after a deployment to Quatar. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
"Daddy! Daddy" yell the McKenzie kids as they reunite with Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie after his 2020 deployment to Quatar.
"Daddy! Daddy" yell the McKenzie kids as they reunite with Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie after his 2020 deployment to Quatar. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Five-year-old Lawton gives her dad Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie a hug as he returns from his 2020 deployment to Quatar.
Five-year-old Lawton gives her dad Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie a hug as he returns from his 2020 deployment to Quatar. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Kristin McKenzie and Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie smile at each other as their family is reunited after his 2020 deployment.
Kristin McKenzie and Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie smile at each other as their family is reunited after his 2020 deployment. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Grey (left), Blake (in the background) and Lawton McKenzie greet their dad Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie in Florida after his return from Quatar.
Grey (left), Blake (in the background) and Lawton McKenzie greet their dad Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie in Florida after his return from Quatar. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie smiles as he hugs daughter Lawton and wife Kristin after his 2020 deployment.
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie smiles as he hugs daughter Lawton and wife Kristin after his 2020 deployment. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie is all smiles as he reunites with his family after his deployment.
Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie is all smiles as he reunites with his family after his deployment. (Hannah Sanchez Photography)

Kristin McKenzie and her kids stood in a field off a road near MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., smiling for the camera as a white SUV pulled up in the background. Kristin knew what was coming, but the children had no idea that they were about to see their dad for the first time since his deployment.

“They were honestly stunned and not sure what they were looking at when he walked up behind us,” said Kristin McKenzie of his arrival. “After a few seconds of pure shock they let out screams and squeals of joy. The 8-year-old just buried herself in his side and sobbed.”

Army Lt. Col. Simon McKenzie had been in Qatar since February and ended up returning a few months ahead of the original plan, so Kristin decided to surprise their three youngest kids, 8-year-old Blake, 7-year-old Grey and 5-year-old Lawton (the couple’s 21-year-old son Caleb is working in Colorado for the summer). She told them the photos would be a Father’s Day gift.

Photographer Hannah Sanchez jokingly described the session on Facebook, saying, “Can you guys believe that a car pulled up right behind this adorable family right when we started shooting?! And then someone just jumped out and photobombed the entiiiiiire session!?”

Sanchez said she was nervous and excited in the moments leading up to the big reunion.

“The only thing we had planned was to keep the kids looking away from the road at all costs so that Lt. Col. McKenzie could hop out of the car and surprise them,” she said.

Even before the deployment, the family had been apart a lot. Kristin was diagnosed with cervical cancer in mid-2017 while they were living in Washington, D.C., and stayed there for medical reasons as her husband moved for a new assignment at MacDill Air Force Base in May of 2018. They saw him every month or two, and she and the kids joined him in August of 2019.

For the McKenzie family, the photos are precious.

“My husband and I will look back on them and remember every step of the journey to get to that moment,” Kristin said. “We will remember getting to breathe for a moment. We made it back to our person. Our kids already remember it as the moment we were whole again after what seemed like an eternity to them, between cancer keeping us apart and the deployment.”

pinson.ann@stripes.com Twitter: @annpinson

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Ann Pinson is acting digital managing editor for Stars and Stripes. She was previously an editor and reporter at The Dallas Morning News for about 18 years.
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