PARIS – After learning that Sgt. Skip Mowatt would arrive in about an hour to pick up his granddaughter from the Mildred Fox Elementary School, first-grade teacher Lori Pacholski scrambled to find 200 flags for the students.
The American Legion Hall came through and delivered a big bundle of bright flags to students, who then lined the school’s walkway holding them up expectantly in the minutes before Mowatt showed up.
Mowatt has been in Iraq for the past year with Maine’s National Guard 152nd Maintenance Company, working northeast of Baghdad as a supply sergeant. The unit’s 129 soldiers landed in Augusta Thursday, where they were met by a throng of family, friends and Gov. John Baldacci.
At the Mildred Fox school there were about 200 elementary students. “This is an impromptu welcome home,” Pacholski said. She teaches Mowatt’s granddaughter.
Arianna Greene waited at the end of a stream of flags, holding up the biggest flag of all. Mowatt scooped her up to embrace her when he got through walking by students and accepting hand-drawn posters.
“This is great,” Mowatt said, “especially with all the kids.”
Back along Pine Street, where Mowatt lives, yellow ribbons and American flags were displayed on neighbor’s homes, and all over town. Yellow ribbons were tied around telephone poles and posts.
Family members drove up to the home with crayoned announcements scribbled on the back of their car windows, like “Welcome back 152nd.” Mowatt’s home was festooned with red, white and blue banners and more flags.
Sue Mowatt, Skip’s wife, said the family had prepared lots of food for the welcome-home party. She seemed to radiate happiness. But she was thinking business. “It’s like right now, let’s get everyone fed,” she said.
She said the 15 months in total that her husband was gone flew by, and that she was in daily contact with Skip. “We would talk over the computer,” she said. But every once in a while her heart would stop. “It would be like, “Hold on,” and you could hear the bombs go off.”
Mowatt said that many Iraqis were appreciative of the work American soldiers were doing. “A lot of them want us there,” he said. “We’ve helped the country out quite a bit.” He added that there’s more going on than merely bombings and killings, that there is good work being accomplished to help the people.
Mowatt signed up for five years of active duty in 2003, leaving his position as detective with the Paris police department.
Because his job in Iraq did not have him in direct combat, he made the comment, “Being a detective here, I’ve seen more than as a supply sergeant.”