By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

First-grade students in Jeanne Hebert’s class at Most Blessed Sacrament School in Baton Rouge were quietly working on their handwriting skills Aug. 22. But, when the door to the classroom opened, Elizabeth Howland glanced up and spotted her mother, Katherine Howland, walking toward her. At first, Elizabeth was unsure why her mother was at school. But when Katherine told her daughter to turn around and look at the door, Elizabeth’s concern turned to joy when she spotted her father, Sgt. William Howland walking through the door in his army fatigues.  

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First-grader Elizabeth Howland hugs her father after he surprised her in class at Most Blessed Sacrament School in Baton Rouge, as her mother, Katherine Howland, looks on. Sgt. William Howland had been deployed since November. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

“Daddy!” yelled Elizabeth as she ran, arms outstretched to her father. It was an embrace that could have last a life-time and one that felt like a life-time away for Sgt. Howland, who was deployed in November for duty in Iraq with the 139th Regional Support Group of the Louisiana National Guard. It was Sgt. Howland’s fourth deployment.  

“The first couple (of deployments), it was easy,” said Sgt. Howland. “It was just me, I wasn’t married, I didn’t have any kids. Then, I had just (Elizabeth) and now I have her and my son, so this one is a little more difficult, a little more sweet, because it’s a little more difficult to be separated from them for so long, but it’s more sweet coming home, too. I’ll be in (the military) 21 years next month, so I’ll be retiring soon. So this is one last time.”  

For Katherine Howland, this deployment was also challenging and referred to it as a “tough year.” With Elizabeth and 3-year-old William, the family made sure they stayed in touch.  

“We Skyped, usually in the mornings on the way to school, he’d call and talk to Elizabeth,” said Katherine, wiping away tears of joy.  

The 139th RSG was based at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq. Their mission, according to Sgt. Howland, was to provide base operation support.  

“We were base operation support integrators for all the life support functions for combat forces in Iraq,” explained Sgt. Howland. “So, all of the soldiers and sailors and Marines that were in combat with ISIS, we were the ones making sure they had a place to sleep, to eat and fuels and vehicles so whenever they got out of combat, we were a very integral part of the mission in Iraq.”  

According to Katherine, it was her husband’s idea to surprise Elizabeth at school. While the family reunion continued, Hebert explained to her students about the important mission of our service men and women and had the class thank Sgt. Howland for his service. Cheri Gioe, principal of MBS School, said the school “has had a real history with sharing letters with our military.”   

“First grade did it last year, (and) the middle school sent letters to a platoon and all of the platoon members wrote back to the children so the children here know that there are people serving our country to keep us safe and (service men and women) have also embraced the children and talked to the children about how important education is, so it’s been a good experience,” said Gioe.  

“It’s the best thing ever,” said Sgt. Howland of reuniting with his loved ones. “It’s what you look forward to the whole time you’re over there so you have to kind of put it aside to do your mission, but it’s always there in the back of your mind, getting reunited with family is probably the best thing.”