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School salutes soldier, wife with surprise tribute

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Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008 | Updated: 7:00 am


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Capt. Darren Fowler and his wife, Alyssa, smile at their daughter,
Kathryn-Karrielle, during a celebration honoring the family Friday
at Sims Junior High School. Fowler recently returned from his
second tour of duty in Iraq, and Alyssa is a teacher at the school.

Capt. Darren Fowler came to Sims Junior High School Friday
prepared to tell students about careers in the military, but he and
his wife were surprised with music and cards from students, and
speeches from friends saluting their service to the country.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Fowler said. “I’m very humbled by
that. It’s touching.”

Fowler returned home on Christmas after his second 15-month tour
in Iraq. He had missed the birth of his daughter, Kathryn-Karrielle
Alverson Fowler, in April. He finally held her for the first time
in June while on leave from Baghdad.

“It took me three months to get home to see my baby girl,” he
said. “That was rough, I know, for Alyssa.”

A heartfelt thank-you

Before and after his presentation on careers in the military,
Capt. Fowler thanked his wife – who started teaching at Sims this
school year – for her strength in flying solo with their new baby
for so many months. Kathryn-Karrielle, held by her grandpa, John
Mullis, during most of the ceremony Friday, sported a red dress and
bow in her thin brown hair and never fussed.

“Above all, I’d like to thank Alyssa,” Fowler said.

Students, teachers and administrators who were packed into gray
bleachers in the school gym used the assembly as a way to thank the
Fowlers and their extended family for their service and sacrifices.
The school band played the national anthem, and students of Melanie
Rabb, a language arts teacher, presented Capt. Fowler with a brown
envelope filled with cards their class had made to express their

Fowler had agreed months earlier, while still in Baghdad, to
talk at Sims about his career, but he and Alyssa said they had no
idea they would be honored Friday. School administrators secretly
planned the assembly as “a way to say thank you to two people that
(we) believe are worthy – more than worthy – of our appreciation,”
said Jim Palmer, a guidance counselor.

“Every morning I have watched Alyssa Fowler come into school,”
including mornings when she was choking back tears because she had
a baby daughter sick at home, was worried for her husband’s
safety, or was adjusting to being a new teacher at a new school,
Palmer said. “Mrs. Fowler, I cannot tell you how proud I am of you
from the bottom of my heart.”

After several other speakers, Capt. Fowler took the podium to
give students a glimpse of his life in Baghdad, like how he carried
45 pounds of gear, including 20 pounds of armor, on his back.

“When it’s 120 degrees outside, that’s real heavy,” he

Baghdad is not like Union, he said: No power, schools, water or
sewer. Insurgents hid improvised explosive devices in ambulances
and trash, and wrapped them in foam to look like rocks in the
street. In his eight months as company commander, he said he and
his men were hit with explosives 256 times.

“I rarely had good news when I called (Alyssa),” he said. But,
he added, “Here’s the best thing about the military … you’re
never alone.”

Capt. Fowler said he and his men were able to make some progress
in Baghdad by working with senior leadership there, “and we slowly
turned the tide from them blowing us up to them working with

He said he would be home in Union until Jan. 21 – “I must say
it’s great to be back in Union again” – then head to Texas, before
moving on to his next assignment in Fort Knox, Ky.

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