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Pursuing a career in the military comes with several sacrifices. Individuals who make the brave decision to serve often miss out on the major life milestones experienced by their loved ones. After being away from his family for nearly a decade, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman gave his daughter a special gift by surprising her on stage at her high school graduation, Good Morning America reported.

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Sgt. Tillman has been in the Army for 18 years. He served in Iraq and was most recently stationed in Korea. Due to his deployment, the only interaction that he had with his family was through FaceTime. With his daughter Kayla’s high school graduation on the horizon, he was unsure if he would be able to be present for the special moment. After returning to his station in Fort Benning, Georgia, attending the commencement ceremony became more of a reality. Tillman initially told his daughter that he wouldn’t make it to the graduation, but little did she know he was planning on driving 600 miles from Fort Benning to Fort Lauderdale for the ceremony. He worked with the school administrators to organize the unforgettable moment for Kayla. Right after she received her diploma, he surprised her on stage. The St. Thomas Aquinas High School commencement ceremony turned into a heartwarming father-daughter reunion before 524 graduates and their loved ones.

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“When they started playing the graduation music, tears just started coming down my eyes because right then and there I realized how much of her life I’d missed,” he told the news outlet. “I didn’t realize the stuff my kids were going through by me not being there physically. It was rough on her and I’m proud that she finished school while dealing with the fact that her dad was in the Army and not there like her friends’ dads were. For the situation we were in, I’m so proud of her.” Kayla—who will attend college in Louisiana—was overcome with emotion when she saw her dad on stage. She said that being reunited with her father made the pinnacle of her high school experience so much more special.

Sgt. Tillman is slated to be stationed in Georgia for the next few years and plans on spending a lot of time with his children.

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Army Sgt. Surprises Daughter At High School Graduation  was originally published on