GI's homecoming shocks daughter at spelling bee

For 9-year-old Skylar Johnson, of Boca Raton, Fla., it was just a routine day at her elementary school's spelling bee last week. But little did she know, it was all an elaborate set-up.

After correctly spelling the word "sergeant," Skylar was asked if there were any special sergeants in her life. She answered, "My dad."

That's when her dad, Army National Guard Med-Evac Staff Sgt. Therron Johnson, emerged from the curtains behind her.

Johnson had been on duty in Southern Iraq. His family hadn't seen him since Christmas.

After spending the past week enjoying their time back together, Skylar and her dad and her brother, Christian, shared their story on "The Early Show" Thursday.

Johnson said he did a lot of advance planning for his trip home, going as far as changing the date when he said he was returning.

He said, "I kind of messed up and told them I was going to be home at the end of September, which was correct, but because of the spelling bee thing that we created, I had to change it and tell them, you know, something different. So it worked out."

Skylar said when she heard her dad wouldn't be coming home as soon as she thought, she cried when she got off the phone with him.

Co-anchor Erica Hill said, "Do you think it was worth it now?"

Skylar replied, "Yes."

She said hugging her dad when she saw him on stage was "amazing." She said, "You can't even describe it."

Hill asked, "Did it feel real?"

"Yes, very real," Skylar said.

Johnson said he was having trouble waiting for his cue to come out from behind the curtain.

"I couldn't wait," he said. "I was behind the curtain and I kept ... telling the lady operating the curtain, one of their assistants there, 'Open the curtain, I'm ready.' You know? She was only like three feet in front of me. We were that close, but the curtain separated us and she didn't even know."

Christian, her brother, who attends a different school, also had a surprise.

He recalled, "They told me I was going to early dismissal and I didn't know what I was going to do, so I walked up to the stage and I saw my dad in his uniform with my sister. I felt like it was a dream that came to real life."

The family, taking time off together before Johnson has to go back to Iraq, spoke to "The Early Show" from Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Johnson said, "It's been a really fun time."

Will he try to top this homecoming?

He said, "I guess they will expect it next time. I'd doubt I could top this. This was unexpected for them and the way ... Boca Raton Elementary changed everything there at the elementary school, they made it a really special moment."

The spelling bee was put together a month before he came back.

"It was plenty of time to plan and it worked out. It was very special," Johnson said. "I mean, little did I realize it was going to be the feel-good story of the week, I guess, is what people are calling it."

Hill said, "It's fantastic. It's always does someone's heart good to see a reunion of one of our members in the military with their kids but, boy, you really topped a lot of of them."

For more on the homecoming, check out our CBS affiliate's report here.