Children clapped and tears flowed freely during an emotional, surprise reunion of a soldier mom and her 9-year-old daughter Wednesday in Culpeper.

A fourth grader at A.G. Richardson Elementary School, Maddie Rowe was unaware at first that her mother, Sgt. 1st Class Marcelle Rowe, had walked onto the playground and was back in town following a 10-month deployment to Iraq.

“Maddie’s mom is here!” shouted another student.

The returning mom, in uniform, spotted her daughter almost immediately, over yonder on a jungle gym.

“I see her—she’s not even paying attention. Can I go over the hill?” asked Sgt. Rowe.

And then, from the not-too-distant hill, came a cry, “Mommy!”

Maddie darted into her mother’s arms, wrapping her legs around her waist, not letting go for several minutes. On the sidelines, applause broke out and exclamations of, “Welcome home!”

Mother and daughter sobbed as they got reacquainted with Maddie clutching a stuffed animal gift and the sergeant thanking everyone around as everyone thanked her for her service. In the Army for 28 years, it was Marcelle Rowe’s first overseas deployment and it was hard.

“You learn to appreciate what you have, I will tell you that,” said Sgt. Rowe, a human resources noncommissioned officer with the 529th Support Battalion. “A lot of personal growth, a lot of growth for my family, learned to trust myself and trust my fellow soldiers and especially trust my loved ones.”

She turned to address the children on the playground.

“Thank you guys so much for helping her through this,” said Sgt. Rowe of her 9-year-old. “It’s been a huge, huge experience for her and me both. It’s the first time we’ve ever been apart.”

She turned to Maddie.

“You look so pretty! You’ve grown—what are ya’ll feeding her?” Rowe laughed.

The fourth grader said it was really good to have her mom back, adding she had no idea about the surprise visit to her school. Asked what she missed most during the deployment, Maddie said, “Her fun personality.”

Teacher Molly Baird was in on the ruse.

“You know why we tried to trick you to get outside now? Maddie, we had to really keep this a secret today, girlie!” said Baird, dismissing her joyful pupil. “You can take mom to the classroom, show her your seat and then get out of here!”

Sgt. Rowe expected they would go out for a special dinner Wednesday night “and just take each other in.” She added, “It’s a little overwhelming, the colors; the desert is very brown and the weather is beautiful here, so just to be with my family, I’m just excited to be home.”

Stationed at Virginia Beach, she said she would be stateside for a while now. Sgt. Rowe said she would possibly retire from the service in about five years.

Her husband, David Rowe, was happy to have her home.

“It’s hard to put in words how it is to have her back after being gone for so long,” he said. “It’s been rough—just doing all of it. it’s good to have my soulmate back.”

Mr. Rowe said bedtime was the hardest part of her absence, for both him and Maddie.

Sgt. Rowe praised her daughter for the sacrifice.

“She just gets it. She is just one of those children you can tell her something and she understands it. She’s my pal, my buddy, my sidekick and I just missed her so much,” she said.

In March while on deployment, Sgt. Rowe was recognized for her work during a promotions and award ceremony at Camp Taji, Iraq, according to publicity from the U.S. Army National Guard.

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