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Andrew and Kristen Frill were keeping a big secret from their daughters last week.

Madison, 9, and Morgan, 6, got their surprise last Tuesday in front of their friends and peers at Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School when their father, a flight engineer in the Navy, walked through a gymnasium door to see and hug the girls for the first time in eight months.

Both daughters burst into tears and ran to embrace their father as teachers and others in attendance at the Dent holiday concert wiped away their own tears. Kristen Frill is a third-grade teacher at the school and had planned the surprise with the help of colleagues and Principal Kelly Courtney.

Andrew Frill was stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., in October 2011, but deployed to El Salvador in May. Since then he had been able to talk to his family and have live Internet video chats, but had not seen his daughters or wife in person.

“We prevented $1.3 billion in illegal narcotics from reaching the United States,” he said. He said the planes he maintained were used to patrol waters south of Florida in search of drug-smuggling boats, “just like you’d see in [the former television show] ‘Miami Vice.’” Frill, 36, returned to Jacksonville at the beginning of December.

This was Andrew Frill’s eighth deployment, which included tours in Iraq. He was not in harm’s way this time around, but being unable to see his family made the stint in Central America just about as difficult as any previous tours, he said.

He said he had dreamed of surprising his children with a homecoming for years.

They were expecting him to arrive home on Christmas Eve, but thanks to some sneaky planning, he was able to surprise them early and spend a full week with his family leading up to the holiday.

“I’ve been keeping track on my calendar” when her dad would arrive home, Morgan said. She said her and her sister and mother talk about seeing their dad a lot and about how much they miss him.

After seeing his children last week, Andrew Frill said he was surprised that they had grown inches taller during the last eight months. The emotions and joy during the reunion was everything he hoped they would be, he said.

He has less than three years until retirement, and said that he hopes to finish out his time here in St. Mary’s with his family. The Frills recently bought a house in Wildewood, he said, and are invested in St. Mary’s County.

“We like it here and plan to stay,” he said.