WILLIAMSTOWN, N.J. -- Just before Sgt. Timothy Land was deployed a few months ago, he comforted his stepdaughter, Morgan Bruynell, with a stuffed animal.
"I got her a little small teddy bear that's in an Air Force flight suit, and just told her that whenever she gets sad that my heart is in that bear as well so whenever she gets sad she can hold the bear," said Timothy Land, U.S. Air Force.
And that is just what 11-year-old Morgan did. While everyday was tough, December proved to be particularly difficult for the 5th-grader who affectionately calls Sgt. Timothy Land, papa bear.
"The toughest deployment I've had in my career and they were very short deployments, but it's still difficult being away from the family especially around the holidays," said Land.
Morgan didn't expect 'papa bear' to be home until next Tuesday, and had been coming to school counting the days until his arrival.
"Everyday she comes in, she thinks he's coming home next Tuesday, this Monday she's like nine days until he comes in and today it was six days until he comes home," said Laura Hetzel, 5th-grade teacher.
But today, Morgan's mom and teachers at Williamstown Middle school in Monroe Township, New Jersey, decided to give her a big surprise before President's Day weekend.
Morgan said those squeezes of that little bear that her dad gave her didn't just help her through the last few months but the support, advice and comfort of her classmates.
"When he first left I was really upset and my friends they were trying to help me and trying to help me get through it," said Morgan.
Morgan says the two things she is looking forward to the most now that her stepdad is home: a special dinner at the Texas Roadhouse and his retirement in 17 months.
5th-grader gets soldier surprise from 'papa bear' in Williamstown