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Army dad surprises children

HESPERIA • When Ava and Nicholas saw their father for the first time in nine months, they didn't immediately know what to do. They sat in disbelief for a few moments before embracing their father in a long hug that drew tears from many of the faculty and staff members at Cottonwood Elementary School.

Sgt. Mark Hammers, who has served in the Army National Guard since he graduated from high school, had been stationed in Kuwait since February. His wife, Marlena, knew that he was coming home a bit early and arranged for their kids, 5 and 7 years old, to be surprised on their last day of school before winter break.

“I’ve been lying since July,” laughed Marlena, who has been forced to keep the surprise a secret from their children and family. “Nicholas even asked Santa for his daddy to come home for Christmas, and I had to lie about that, too. That was hard.”

Marlena picked up her husband from Ontario airport late Wednesday night, making arrangements for their children to stay at her parents’ house so they could be surprised at school during an assembly.

“This is throwing everyone off,” Hammers said before he saw his kids. “I wasn’t supposed to be home until Valentine’s Day.”

Hammers said that after nine long months and a five-day trip back to their Spring Valley Lake home, he looks forward to spending a few quiet days alone with his brood before embarking on some much-anticipated family trips to visit family and local theme parks.

Hammers, who left Kuwait Dec. 14, says he has lived out of a suitcase for almost a full week and looks most forward to playing video games with his son, dolls with his daughter and eating at In-N-Out.

Because of Hammer’s role in the National Guard, he could be home for an undetermined length of time. In the meantime, he plans to go back to work as a correctional officer at the federal prison.

“I am so excited,” Marlena said through a huge smile, as she watched Ava and Nicholas cuddle with their father. “This is going to be the best Christmas ever.”

Lynnea Lombardo may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at

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