Claudia Lea never expected her military dad to attend her college graduation. He is serving in Germany and her family lives in West Virginia.
But there he was at Marshall University, stepping from under the bleachers and striding up the aisle where Claudia stood in her cap and gown. She sobbed at the sight of him. Army Maj. Brett Lea just smiled and scooped his daughter into his arms.
"She just fell apart," the major told InsideEdition.com. "It was an amazing moment, one that I'll cherish forever."
For Claudia, it was "complete and utter shock," her dad said.
His appearance was a tightly held secret in the Lea household, and was months in the making.
Her mother knew. She and her husband plotted a way to surprise their daughter at her ceremony. School officials were consulted with, and the ultimate plan was to have an announcement from the podium that Claudia's dad had recorded a video for his daughter.
So while the 5,000 audience members and the graduating class waited for the video to begin, Lea walked onto the gymnasium floor.
Claudia hadn't seen her dad since Christmas.
"People started cheering and clapping," Claudia said. She thought it was for the video, which still hadn't started. "That's when I looked to my right and saw him, 'cause everyone else... reacted before I did."
Lea was able to spend Saturday with his family before flying right back to his post at Grafenwohr Army Base.
"I've been in the active duty force for 17 years," Lea said. "Everybody in the Army who has kids and has a spouse, they know you miss things and, you know, you take advantage of the time that you have.
"This is probably the most significant event of her life so far... that's something I would do anything to be at," the father said.
His commanding officers, and those who work under him, encouraged him to go, he said. It was a whirlwind, 72-hour trip. "It really was something special," he said.
Once the shock wore off from seeing her dad in the last place she expected him to be, Claudia realized it made perfect sense for him to be there.
"He is awesome," she said. "Both my parents are incredible... I honestly think that they are, like, my best friends, so I love them both."