One local family was brought to tears Tuesday afternoon, after one family member made her return home for the holidays.
After being away from home for five months, Army Pvt. Elina Castillo left her barracks in Fort Lee, W. Va. at 1 a.m. Tuesday and traveled all the way to Corpus Christi to surprise her sister, Marina "Bella" Castillo and her dad, Juan Castillo.
Elina — a graduate of Veteran Memorial High School — had spent several months planning the surprise with the help of her family, friends and members of the VMHS school administration.
"They had no idea I was coming," Elina said. "I had been planning this for months so to finally be here, to finally be doing it, I am full (...)my heart is very full."
Elina decided to surprise both her family members at VMHS, turning a typical school day into a wonderful surprise. Her first stop: surprising Marina.
She hid in the classroom and when Marina stepped into the classroom, Elina saluted her, had her do several military-style push-ups and and then embraced her.
Marina was floored by her sister's arrival and was, "very excited to see her, but was ready (for the pushups)."
"When we'd go visit her in Virginia, she told me about everything they did in basic, (like) pushups and the basic stance," she said.
Even as a high school freshman, Marina plans to follow in her sister's footsteps and join the Army after graduation.
The Castillo sisters are very close and have missed each other dearly since Elina left home.
"I felt very alone like my other half was gone," Marina said. "It was very hard to go through high school alone without her being by my side. (I realized) a sister could mean so much more than just a sister, and more than your best friend."
"(Being away is) a little bit harder on me than she realizes," Elina admitted. " I'm still a phone call away, but there was times where I wasn't. I was so excited to see her, just to feel her and get to hug her again."
The only person that missed Elina as much as Marina, was her dad, Juan. He's a welding instructor at VMHS and was called out of his classroom to also be surprised by his daughter.
"I thought I was in trouble," Juan said laughing.
He expressed that the hardest part about being a military father is not knowing if their child is okay.
" It's been really hard for us to get into the Christmas spirit this year because of her absence, we've never been away from her," he said.
The Castillo family felt broken since Elina's departure, but they definitely understood that she is a soldier and that they had to support her.
"My heart goes to them the military men and women that are not able to be home because just being home means everything," Juan added. "The littlest things mean the most."
Elina said that life in the military comes with a lot of distractions, and a busy schedule.
"So you don't really have time to think (...) I have like this switch where I am able to turn off my feelings so I get to just focus on work(...) so it's good to be able to let my feelings finally open and be around my family for the holidays," Elina said.
The VMSH alum said she is grateful to be able to paint a picture for her sister of what it's like to have honor and respect for the people who serve this country.