Paradis resident Sgt. Destine Jory stood outside of the International House of Pancakes in Boutte in her military fatigues.
The mother of two was preparing to reunite with her family after being stationed in Kuwait for the past nine months. Despite the emotion of the occasion, Jory maintained her composure while waiting in the parking lot of the restaurant where her family, including her children, 7-year-old Dominic and 4-year-old Desiree, had gathered for a seemingly normal lunch.
Jory was about to give her kids the surprise of a lifetime because they weren’t expecting her home for two more weeks.
When Jory made her way through the doors to the back dining room of the restaurant, gasps could be heard. Within seconds, both of her children ran into her arms for a minutes-long embrace.
The heartwarming scene provoked tears from diners as well as restaurant staff.
“She was gone many days,” Desiree said.
Jory said although she was away from her children, she was able to communicate with them frequently.
“I Skyped them and talked to them on the phone,” she said. But being limited to a phone call here and there fell far short in comparison to being able to touch them and be with them in person.
For Jory, her first deployment in six years in the Army National Guard was a jolt from her previous job as an assistant manager at the Dollar General in Paradis.
Jory volunteered with the 1021st Engineer Company of the Army National Guard, but due to security purposes could not speak about what she did in her time in the Middle East.
“That I can’t discuss,“ she said.
However, she did say she was proud to have been able to serve her country.
“That is why I joined,” she said.
Now back home again, Jory is ready for her life to get back to normal. She said she would be taking a break for the summer before thinking about getting back to a civilian work life.
“I am not going back to work for a while. I want to spend time with my family,” Jory said. “We’ve planned a camping trip and they want to go to the beach, so I am going to take them there.”
The surprise homecoming would not have been possible without Jory’s sister-in-law, Tiffany Lynn, who orchestrated the event.
“It was mostly for the kids. The other (family members) were supposed to be surprised, but they pretty much figured it out,” Tiffany said.
One of those who eventually caught on to the surprise was Tiffany’s husband, Jonathan Hall. Still, Hall went through most of the day not knowing about his sister’s homecoming.Hall said he got suspicious when his alarm did not go off and his wife told him he would not be going into work.
“I didn’t find anything out until today. I had to think about it,” he said. “I knew about the time when she was coming home, but she didn’t call me or anybody else. She kept me in suspense.”
Even Hall’s employer, Motiva, was in on the surprise.“They had it all planned with my boss,” he said.
Still, even though he knew what was coming, Hall embraced his sister, lifted her in the air and spun her around.
Jory’s mother, Cindy Hall, was also in on the secret. She had been watching Desiree and Dominic since Jory had been gone and said it was very difficult for her to keep the secret from the children.
“It was nerve wracking trying to hide it from them because they are out of school. You can’t do very much with them around, so it was pretty mind boggling,” she said.
Despite the hardship of having Jory in the Middle East, Hall said she was supportive of her daughter’s decision to serve the country.
“She can get the experience. It is harder on the kids, that’s the only thing,” she said. She’s got to do it for her job. She signed up for it. I support anything that she chooses to do. I’m very proud of her.”
Now that the tour was over and Jory was back with her family, Hall said there was only one thing left to do given that alcoholic beverages are illegal in Kuwait.
“We might go get daiquiris after this,” she said.
See the video of Jory’s surprise homecoming below.