Military wife gets deployed husband into family Christmas photo

Thanks to Photoshop, Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith appears in his family's Christmas card photo, despite being deployed overseas.

His wife, Andrea Pritts-Smith, has been deluged with online comments and phone calls since she posted an image of her, her husband and their 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte. 

Andrea and Charlotte are pictured with an overflowing shopping cart inside a North Carolina Target store. The toddler is seen using the basket as a big step stool to a top shelf of the toy aisle. Her dad, clad in fatigues, holds his arms out to catch her while standing in a parched field with a mountain in the distance.

Smith's photographer friend, Leslie Owen, manipulated the two images into one-holiday portrait. 

"I just never expected our Christmas photo to catch fire like this," the 28-year-old mother told Tuesday. 

Her Facebook post has been liked more than 500 times. "It went crazy," she said.

Why did she pick Target as her backdrop, instead of, say, a roaring fire or a twinkling Christmas tree?

"My daughter is obsessed with Target," she replied. "I mean obsessed. When we drive by a Target store and she sees the sign, she'll say 'Mommy, can we go to Target?'''

The mother has no idea why Target so mesmerizes her little girl. "We don't even have to buy anything, she just likes to walk around."

After talking with Owen about staging a yuletide portrait, the photographer suggested they take Charlotte to her favorite place, fill up a buggy with her favorite toys, and see what happened. 

In the image, Andrea is sitting on the floor, drinking a cup of coffee, oblivious to Charlotte standing on the shopping cart's handle (the last part was Photoshopped, too).

Her husband wasn't keen on the image. "I can't have you posting that," he told her in an email. "I have to be catching her. I have to know she's safe."

She said OK, don't worry, we'll take care of it.

A Marine buddy took a photo of Smith looking upward, arms outstretched and Smith emailed it to his wife. "It worked out perfect," she said.

For security reasons, she is not allowed to say where her husband is stationed or when he will return. 

But he has access to the internet. 

He emailed Monday night after the family photo began burning up the internet. "What is going on with this Christmas card?" he asked incredulously.

Smith is pleased, and more than a little stunned, at the response.

"There are people missing their loves right now," she said. "There are still people serving overseas. There are still people serving their country."

This will be the family's first Christmas apart. Last year, Andrew Smith came home two days before Santa's arrival. "My daughter was ecstatic. She told everyone that Santa brought her daddy home."

Charlotte knows her dad will be gone this holiday. "She understands," her mom said. "She said, 'It's OK, daddy. I just want you to be safe.''' 

Andrea "just wanted my husband included in our Christmas card. That's how all this started," she said. 

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