PLAIN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- A local school teamed up with a soldier to help him surprise his family this holiday season.
"I’m nervous,” said U.S. Army Private Zackery Douglas, as he embarked on the first secret mission of his military career.
Pvt. Douglas, a 2018 graduate of Perry High School, walked into Oakwood Middle School in Plain Township on Thursday, as part of a secret Christmas homecoming to surprise his two favorite cousins.
One of the girls, 12-year-old Kairi Cota is a cheerleader for the Oakwood Eagles basketball team and as she was leading a cheer at halftime of their game against the Perry Panthers, Pvt. Douglas walked into the gym.
The crowd erupted into cheers after Douglas hugged Kairi as she cried tears of joy. Her sister Faith and their mother jumped out of the stands and joined in the family hug.
Pvt. Douglas has been stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma since September 11 and decided to surprise his cousins, after he learned from family members that it was their Christmas wish that he come home for the holidays.
Pvt. Douglas told FOX 8, “I always look at them as my little sisters to an extent. I love them, they always look up to me. I'm trying to be a good role model for them."
Grinning from ear to ear, Kairi Cota said "When I got to see him, I was just, in awe, I was so excited and so shocked at the same time. I wasn't expecting it."
Pvt. Douglas' family arranged the homecoming surprise with the Plain Township School District, after the Army granted the soldier an early leave for the holidays.
His aunt, Crystal Douglas, told FOX 8, "knowing that I could help them pull off that surprise was the best Christmas gift that we could have.”
As he reflected on the homecoming, Douglas said, “It was a great feeling to able to come home and see them. They weren't expecting it at all. We set it up for a couple of weeks and being able to walk out there and hear everybody cheering, it felt surreal.”
Pvt. Douglas will also be able to celebrate the New Year’s holiday at home, but then duty calls and he returns to Fort Sill on January 3.
He said after that he's not sure when he'll be able to come back home again. However, he accomplished his mission of bringing a smile to the faces of Kairi and Faith and made Christmas 2018 one that they will never forget.
"Oh by far the best, by far, yes. I don't think anything will top this,” said Crystal Douglas.