Loud elementary school cafeterias are hardly unusual.

Loud elementary school cafeterias are hardly unusual.

But the reason for the outcry Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Beacon Elementary School in Hilliard was anything but normal.

With Beacon teachers and fourth-grade students watching, U.S. Air Force Capt. Jill Dixon stepped from hiding to greet her twin daughters, Alayna and Brianna, who had just entered the cafeteria.

Dixon just concluded a nearly six-month deployment to Kurdistan and surprised her daughters by arriving home one week earlier than expected.

Both daughters ran to embrace Dixon and the trio hugged.

"I thought I was dreaming. I didn't know it was for real. I pinched myself," Brianna said after her family had moved into a classroom to share lunch.

Both daughters said they were proud their mother "was helping other people."

"I missed her smile and her hugs, and her cooking," Alayna said.

Bow-tie pasta appeared to the likely meal for the family's first time at the table together since early April.

A registered nurse, Dixon left Columbus April 7 for a six-month deployment to Kurdistan, where she provided medical care to American military personnel.

Dixon, 47, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force four years ago and will soon complete her service.

Prior to enlisting, Dixon was a nurse in the emergency room at Doctors Hospital on West Broad Street, but chose to follow her family members into military service.

"It's been a great experience," she said. "I appreciate the United States (even) more."

Dixon has six children, ranging in age from 28 to the twin fourth-grade girls at Beacon Elementary School, where all six of her children have attended.

She said it was tough to be away from them.

"If I didn't have Skype, I think I'd have gone crazy," Dixon said. "Fortunately, we had good Internet service where I was stationed, so I was able to communicate with my family almost every day."

Dixon was stationed in a staging area where about 2,000 to 4,000 troops passed through each day, coming or going to parts of the Middle East.

"It was hard some days meeting people and knowing what they were headed into ... some of them were the age of my children," Dixon said.

During her visit to Beacon, Dixon presented the school an American flag that had flown at her base.