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Cassie Olson did not expect to have her whole family home for the holidays this year. While dining at the Chick-fil-A in La Plata on Thursday, the Welcome woman only expected to be meeting her husband, John, for lunch.

From the restaurant’s kitchen, U.S. Army Pvt. Sarah Olson walked to the table where her parents were seated, still donning her fatigues, carrying a tray of food.

For mother and daughter, it was a moment of quiet recognition and strong emotion. Sarah arrived at the table, and rather than being stunned into silence, Cassie recognized her middle daughter immediately and the situation, and embraced her daughter while crying quietly, ending a six-month separation.

In November, Sarah said, she told her mother she would not be able to return from her post at Fort Rucker in Alabama, where the 2012 Henry E. Lackey High School graduate is in training to be an air traffic controller, for the holidays, because she had to stay there for duty.

“I just thought she’d like the surprise,” Sarah Olson said. “I’d told them before, in October, that I was going to come home, and then I had this idea and I called my dad and I told him what I wanted to do.”

John Olson said that while his wife labored under the impression that they wouldn’t have the whole family together for the holidays, he was secretly arranging Sarah’s travel plans.

“I lied about it. I lied several times,” John Olson said. “It broke my heart because one night we were out sitting on our porch and out of the blue, Sarah called her mother and told her the story she’d come up with, and Cassie broke down. The hardest thing I ever did was not tell her what was happening.”

Cassie, who wears her daughter’s dogtags around her neck and does not remove them, said she is beside herself to have her daughter home.

“She’s a special kid,” Cassie Olson said. “I’m so happy to have her home. When she left for basic training, it was hard on all of us.”

Chick-fil-A of La Plata owner and operator John Flatley said John Olson approached him Monday with an exact plan of what he wanted for his daughter’s surprise homecoming, the first the restaurant has hosted.

“I wasn’t sure what Cassie’s reaction would be like. I was prepared for a lot of screaming and jumping,” Flatley said. “Her response was very quiet. It was a very tender moment. We try to join people where they are. We want to be a part of what’s going on with our customers and friends. This could have happened anywhere, but they’ll recall for years to come that it happened right here.”

Sarah will remain at home for two weeks.

lrenner@somdnews.com