PORT ISABEL — For sisters Lylith, 12, and Chloe, 10, Rodriguez their day began like most.

They woke up early, got their things ready for the day and went to school.

Unbeknownst to them, someone very special in their lives had returned home and was very happy to finally be able to see them again.

U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Mark A. Rodriguez, 31, made surprise visits to his daughters’ schools Thursday in Port Isabel.

After spending the past 10 months on deployment aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, Mark was able to return to the Valley and see his family for a while before returning to his station near California.

Military homecoming

Attending different schools, Mark made a visit to Chloe’s classroom first at Point Isabel ISD’s Garriga Elementary School.

Upon entering Chloe’s classroom, Mark walked toward the middle of the room and held his arms open as Chloe ran into them.

Sniffles and “awws” could be heard in the room from students and personnel while Mark and Chloe hugged each other for minutes.

After helping Chloe pack her things into her backpack, the duo went to the junior high school to surprise Lylith during her violin class.

As Mark entered the band hall, students and faculty began clapping for him in honor of his service.

After seeing her dad enter the band hall, Lylith broke into tears and immediately ran from across the room to hug him.

“I’m honestly shocked by how much they’ve grown,” Mark said with a laugh and a smile as he looked at his daughters. “It’s a blessing, especially with all of the compliments that they continue to get from their teachers and everyone around them and to hear how great they are.”

Lylith said she knew her dad was going to come home, but she didn’t expect for it to happen so soon.

“It feels amazing to have him back,” Lylith said with a smile. “It feels almost like I’m talking to a ghost in a way. It’s hard to explain, but I’m really proud of my dad.”

Deployment

Mark said in the moments leading up to the surprise visits he felt anxious.

“I was excited mostly because people don’t understand that feeling of not being able to see your kids,” he said. “And then those that do don’t understand the other aspect of it being on a deployment.”

During his deployment, Mark said he had about 25 days of internet access and communicating back home became a huge challenge.

“There were only about 15 sailor phones for 5,000 personnel to call home,” he explained. “So to go ahead and secure one of those for enough time to call everyone is not only a challenge, but almost impossible at times.”

Mark said he will reach his 11th year of service in April.

He says his kids were the ones who inspired him to pursue a career in the military.

“It’s actually the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but I wanted to make sure I had a future for them,” he explained. “The military provides many benefits and when things get rough, I think about them.”

MARK A. RODRIGUEZ

AGE — 31

HOMETOWN — San Benito

HIGH SCHOOL — Point Isabel School District graduate, class of 2007

BRANCH — U.S. Navy

RANK — Chief Petty Officer

SERVICE — Close to 11 years