Julian Trujillo sat on a stool presenting a poster about his life to his fourth grade classmates at Palatine's Hunting Ridge School -- the perfect ruse to set up his big surprise -- when a knock on the door sounded.
A short time later just one block away, older sister Jackie conjugated verbs during freshman Spanish class at Fremd High School when an administrator summoned her to the hallway.
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Awaiting them both was their big brother and personal hero, Petty Officer Cameron Schwartz of the U.S. Navy, back safe from an eight-month deployment to one of Afghanistan's southwestern war zones near the Pakistan border.
Julian screamed and ran to the man dressed in fatigues; Jackie couldn't make a sound, letting months of emotion stream down her face as she took comfort in a long, silent embrace.
They hadn't expected Schwartz, a 22-year-old Naval construction mechanic, to return until sometime next month.
"It's kind of overwhelming, but really fun," Schwartz said. "My mom and I had been planning this for a while now."
Similarly misty-eyed and there to witness the reunion were wife, Brenda, who like Schwartz is in the Navy and stationed in Gulfport, Miss., sister, Haley, mother, Carolyn Trujillo, and stepfather, Floyd Trujillo.
At Hunting Ridge, Julian excitedly showed off his surprise, who got back to the U.S. Sept. 20 after a long journey via Qatar, Germany and Canada. By the end of his visit, Schwartz, a 2008 Fremd graduate, was a rock star signing autographs.
Julian's classmates rattled off one question after the next:
Were you scared?
"(There were) scary times, but it was all right."
How long did it take you to get home?
"Twenty hours by plane."
Did you get our letters?
"Yes I did, and they were great."
Over at Fremd, Schwartz received enthusiastic applause from Jackie's classmates and later apologized if he embarrassed her.
"I was really scared at first because I thought I was in trouble, but then I saw the cameras and my family and finally Cameron," Jackie said.
The entire time, Carolyn Trujillo beamed as Schwartz, who's enjoying seeing grass, having his own bathroom and getting a reprieve from 130-degree weather, reconnected with his family.
She's breathing easier with her son out of harm's way, and relieved that his next deployment is at least 10 months away and likely to a noncombat area. She's also thankful that the U.S. is slowly scaling back its presence in Afghanistan given that her son still has four more years of service ahead.
"It's been difficult for everyone, but we're very proud of him," she said. "We're just going to enjoy this time together."