GRANTSBORO | Gunnery Sgt. Chris Hoenig and his wife Hannah are good at keeping a secret.
On Friday, three of their four sons had unexpected reunions with their Cherry Point Marine father.
Hoenig had returned home Friday morning from a six-month deployment in Turkey with Marine Tactical Electronic Squadron 4. But, he and his wife kept the homecoming a secret from sons Howard, 8, Derek, 7, and Ryder, 4, choosing instead to surprise them at their school at Pamlico Christian Academy in Grantsboro.
The couple’s fourth son Liam, 2, got an early reunion when he and Mom met Dad Friday morning upon his return to Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in New Bern.
Friday also happened to be Derek’s birthday, so the couple used that as an excuse to gather the boys together at the school. That’s when their father, who had been hiding in the school office, walked in to say “Happy Birthday.”
The boys immediately recognized their dad and rush forward to give him a giant hug.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Chris Hoenig. “I’ve been looking forward to it since I left. It’s good to be home finally, and I won’t have to miss out on anything anymore.”
The New Bern couple had been planning the surprise for about a week, but sometimes returns from deployment can get delayed due to logistics involving airplane trips halfway around the globe.
“It’s all up in the air until you’re actually on the plane,” said Hoenig, who joined the Marine Corps 16 years ago.
During his deployment, the squadron was in Turkey during a widely televised attempted government coup. The unrest affected squadron operations briefly, he said.
“We didn’t have power or anything for about a week, so we couldn’t do anything really,” said Hoenig. “We finally got generators going and were able to do basic items.”
Hoenig, a native of Cross Lake, Minn., ran the electric shop work center with 19 other Marines, fixing electric systems on EA-6B Prowlers. VMAQ-4 is still in Turkey supporting the fight against ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq.
He had high praise for his wife Hannah for holding things together with four energetic boys during his deployment.
“I don’t know how she does it really. She’s just amazing,” he said.
Hannah Hoenig is a good planner, it seems. Seven years ago, she managed to deliver Derek right after her husband returned from a deployment.
“I came back from a deployment to Iraq that time, I think, and about 15 hours later after I got home, she went into labor and he was born,” said the Marine father.
He had a hard time describing his feelings about reuniting with his family.
“It’s just a good feeling knowing that I am back and can help out again with whatever issues they are having,” he said. “I know they change a little bit each time, too. You don’t realize how much you miss it until you’re away for a little while. It’s a good feeling.”
Hannah Hoenig said she enjoyed watching the surprise homecoming.
“I think it went good. It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” she said. “I think it was good. I was a little worried they weren’t going to react, that they were just going to blow it off, but they did really good. They were excited. It was hard keeping the secret.”