LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Emily Pineda was 10 years old when Annie Aguirre was born and the two cousins have been inseparable ever since.
"We've been close ever since she was born," Pineda said. "I just remember being so obsessed with her."
Pineda enlisted in the Army four years ago, but the close-knit cousins haven't seen each other for almost a year.
"She was definitely heartbroken," Pineda said.
On Wednesday, Annie graduated from the fifth grade at Olivia Nieto Herrera Elementary School in Long Beach. The unsuspecting 11-year-old waited for her turn to walk across the stage as Pineda hid in a classroom telling Eyewitness News why she takes pride in setting an example for her younger cousin.
"No matter what she goes through as a woman or anything, I want her to know that she can succeed," Pineda said.
Specialist Pineda's photos from Iraq show her training Iraqi chemical soldiers.
"I'm a 74 Delta which is a CBRN specialist, so it's a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear specialist," she said.
Annie's teacher and school principal were both in on the surprise the Aguirre family had been waiting for. As Annie received her diploma, Pineda was invited to the stage and the two embraced in an emotional reunion.
"She surprised me at my graduation," Annie said.
Annie's mother said her daughter looked like she was about to faint.
Pineda plans to re-enlist in the army and said she doesn't take moments like this one for granted.
Soldier's return home for cousin's graduation day in Long Beach sparks tears of joy
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