By TOM WOERNER
Of The Record Staff
A returning U.S. Army soldier surprised his two children with an early return at a Veterans Day event at a Harnett County elementary school Thursday.
Staff Sgt. Corey Fowler, dressed as Overhills Elementary School’s mascot “Lynx,” greeted his daughters, Bailie and Zoey, at the school’s annual Veterans Day event. Both girls are students at the school and were sitting on the school’s gym floor when they received the surprise of their lives.
The girls were told they had won a prize and were called to the stage to receive their winnings, from the school mascot. Little did they know, the mascot, “Lynx” was their father.
When the mascot’s head came off and his true identity was revealed there were tears, screams and cheers from the crowd of more than 300 people. The two girls could hardly speak but were eager to hug their father whom they thought was still fighting an enemy on the other side of the world.
“This is a big deal to them,” their mother Liz said.
Zoey, 8, and Bailie, 10, have lived through deployments in the past but this was the first one they are old enough to remember. Their father has been deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He could not say where he was deployed but Operation Inherent Resolve is the military operational name of the effort against the Islamic State, or ISIS in the Middle East.
Staff Sgt. Fowler arrived home Wednesday but resisted the temptation to see his daughters before the event Thursday.
“I knew if I tried to peek and see them early I would want to hug them so I waited,” Staff. Sgt. Fowler said. “It was worth the wait but I am nervous and I am excited.”
Mrs. Fowler arranged for friends and family members to watch the two girls while she picked up her husband and helped plan the surprise. Members of the Parent Teacher Organization also participated by getting the two girls on stage at the same time.
The reunion came at the end of one of the largest Veterans Day parades in school history. Students, on home made floats, made their way around the gym.
The Overhills attendance area has one of the heaviest military populations in the county and many students have ties to the military. Because of the proximity of Fort Bragg, a majority of those on hand represented the U.S. Army but all branches were represented.
School Principal Susan Polumbo spoke at the beginning of day.
“Today we are proud to honor you for what you do for us and for our country,” Ms. Polumbo said.