Staff Photo: Jason Braverman William Dowis, who has been serving in Afghanistan for the past 9-months, surprised his daughter, Emma Kate, 5, at her school on Monday while returning home on a 15-day leave.
SNELLVILLE -- Five-year-old Emma Kate Dowis wanted one thing for Christmas: her daddy to come home.
The kindergartner at Snellville's Pharr Elementary wrote letters to Santa Claus and her father's colonel with the Army National Guard saying so. Stationed in Afghanistan, her father had been away from his family since April.
Monday afternoon, Emma Kate got her wish. Spc. William Dowis came home on leave and surprised his daughter in her classroom.
"She was shocked," Spc. Dowis said afterward. "I've been telling her to write Santa Claus and see if she could work it out, and she got the idea she was going to write my colonel too. So it kind of got worked up like that."
After her mom snuck in the room and handed her a card from that same colonel, Emma Kate stood up, turned around and saw her father standing in the doorway.
She leapt into his arms, and he held her close to his well-worn fatigues.
When he finally set her down, Emma Kate introduced her father to all of her classmates. Those classmates then gave the 5-year-old a group hug.
"She was ecstatic," mom Katherine Dowis said. "We've missed him very much and it was really great to get to surprise the kids too."
Neither Emma Kate nor her two older siblings (who attend Walton County schools) had any idea their dad would be home for Christmas. Spc. Dowis is back in town on a 15-day leave before returning to Afghanistan until at least next spring.
Katherine Dowis said she and her husband decided not to tell the kids so they wouldn't be disappointed if something held up his leave.
"We were just talking about it, and we decided it would be more memorable for them," she said. "It was a total shock for all of them."
The family will spend the holidays together, including a trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., to "get away from everything."