When 4-year-old Marissa Jackson and her classmates at the Little School in Zachary designed a banner last week in honor of her father serving in the Army, the children were simply told the soldier would be returning home soon.

So when Steven Jackson, 26, returned to Zachary on April 16 after a 13-month deployment in South Korea, he made it his final mission to surprise Marissa and his 2-year-old daughter, Melody, at their preschool.

“I’ve been thinking about his return since he left,” said Steven Jackson’s wife, Marla Jackson. “When I knew it would be happening for real about two months ago, I planned the surprise reunion between him and the girls.”

Marla enlisted the help of Little School teachers and administrator Kathy Borneman, who were in on the surprise reunion.

The banner was made, flags and balloons were on standby and one teacher baked brownies.

Several minutes after the Jacksons walked through the gym doors at the preschool, the ruse was up when the 4-year-old spotted her father still in uniform and ran, flinging herself into his outstretched arms.

“I’m happy and excited to have my daddy home,” Marissa said.

A Florida native, Jackson said he met his wife on a cruise and followed her to her hometown of Zachary, where they’ve lived since marrying five years ago.

“I’ve missed a lot by being away, but I’m finished with my tour and will be doing something closer to home with the (Louisiana National) Guard, something closer to my family,” Steven Jackson said.

When asked what he missed most about his duties as a father and husband, he said “everything.”

Marla is the daughter of CeCe and Wayne Peltier, a math teacher at Zachary High School.

“It’s good to be back home,” Steven Jackson said.