FORT LEE, Va. -- Two daughters were surprised Jan. 5 at Cosby High School in Midlothian, Virginia, by their mother's early return from a yearlong deployment to Iraq.

Army Col. Beth Prekker was due to return from her deployment in late January. She and her husband Rick Prekker, a retired soldier, wanted to a make the reunion a day to remember for their daughters: Caroline Prekker, a sophomore at the high school, and Lindsay Prekker, a junior at Old Dominion University.

Anne Canipe, a history teacher at the school, helped the Prekkers to plan the ruse: That day, Lindsay was invited to talk to the high school students about college and the application process, while her mother, Col. Prekker, was scheduled to take part via Skype. Canipe even invited the local media to attend to learn about the "good things that are happening in Chesterfield."

During the lesson, Canipe made a show of attempting to skype Prekker. The class thought there was a technical issue when Prekker didn't pick up the call, but she was actually waiting in the back of the room.


When she came out, her daughters leaped from their chairs and ran to her.

"I have so much adrenaline going right now; I am shaking," Prekker said. "It is so good to be home, to be able to be with them, to have somebody to do things with. I missed them a lot."

Caroline said that, in the moment, she suspected something unusual might be happening.

"I didn't want to get my hopes up, though," she said.

Lindsay had not seen her mom since last winter break.

"When I stood behind the column, it was so hard not to start crying," Prekker said. "I was just so excited and thinking, 'Let's just get this over with.' I want to see them."

It was hard to keep quiet about the surprise, Rick admitted.

"The girls have gone through five deployments, and every time it is a new experience," he said. "A surprise reunion is a great welcome and always fun."

For the girls, the toughest part of the deployments is not having their mom around, but in recent years technology has made a difference.

"It has gotten easier the past couple of years to stay in touch because of technology," Lindsay said. "In the earlier years, we would be lucky to get a phone call, but now we can video chat, email and make phone calls."

After leave, Prekker said, she plans to head back to Fort Riley, Kansas, where she is stationed, but she hopes to have orders cut for Fort Lee soon.

The Prekkers agreed it's hard being apart, but the time they are together is quality time.