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WATCH: Not a Dry Eye in the House When Marine Surprises Family at Mall for Christmas Family Photo

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One of the most difficult emotional challenges of military life for our men and women in uniform is passing the holidays across the country or overseas so far away from loved ones without being permitted holiday leave.

Which is why it is particularly joyful when a service member manages to make it home in time for Christmas…and it’s even better if they can surprise their family!

The Riddleberger family in Greensboro, North Carolina, was sadly expecting to be one child short as their son, Lachlan, a U.S. Marine, was denied leave for Christmas while serving at Camp Pendleton in California.

According to Liftable, Lachlan’s mom, Jodi, was committed to observing their family’s biggest Christmas tradition: getting a photo taken with Santa.

Even though Lachlan couldn’t be home in North Carolina, Jodi says she made him promise to get a photo taken with Santa. “I told him that was the only Christmas present I wanted from him,” she said.

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Lachlan agreed to her request, but left out one tiny little detail: at the last minute, his request for leave had been approved!

In order to pull off his sweet Christmas surprise for his family, Lachlan needed a man on the inside, so he let his big brother, Addison, in on the plan.

Addison picked Lachlan up from the airport and smuggled him back home, keeping his return under wraps until the next day, when the Riddlebergers had planned to visit the mall for their annual Santa photo.

When the family gathered for the photo, they got the biggest surprise they could ever ask for!

“This went from the worst Christmas — because it was the first one we wouldn’t all be together — to the best Christmas,” Jodi shared with Liftable. “Because Lachlan was home and we would get to celebrate the holiday together.”

“Lachlan’s home,” she said, “and now everything that we are doing is extra special — because we are all together.”

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