By Rhonda AppleFebruary 13, 2012
When school teacher Katie Denisar decided to adopt a Soldier in 2009, little did she know her selfless act of patriotism and educational opportunity for her class of first graders would lead to a marriage proposal.
"I had a small class [at Cooke Elementary School in Galesburg, Ill.] and thought it would be fun to do a special project that would be more difficult with a larger class," said Katie, now the wife of the Army officer she and her students adopted, Capt. Bradley D. Denisar, currently serving as commander of Headquarters Company, United States Army on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Denisar was assigned to Fort Campbell, Ky., and deployed to Afghanistan with 4th Bn., 101st Aviation Regiment, also known as Task Force Wings as the S1/task force adjutant when he was adopted by Katie and her students.
Katie said this was a good project for her and her students.
"I'd taken a graduate school class that talked about live event learning and providing education to students by providing experiences to learn from," she said. "Rather than teaching them through books or your own experiences." Katie said she was looking for pen pals for her students, and originally reached out to the school system for help. "I sent out a district-wide email asking for names, addresses and email addresses for deployed Soldiers," Katie said. "I also asked around the community and at church. I received five names, including Bradley's information. His father was my superintendent, and I knew him from contract - bargaining negotiations."
Little did this Army officer or his teacher wife know at the time they were corresponding, they would eventually meet, fall in love and get married. Denisar first heard about Katie's plan for the project through his father, S. Gene Denisar.
"My dad had come out of retirement as a school superintendent, living with my mom [also an elementary school teacher] in Sarasota, Fla., to return to his hometown, Galesburg, as the interim superintendent," explained Denisar. The temporary position turned into a full-time job, and Brad's father remained in Galesburg as the full-time superintendent for about 10 [academic] years.
Denisar explained that Katie is also from a Family of educators. "Her mom is a third grade teacher and her father is a retired music teacher." "He emailed me to inform me that this teacher was going to adopt me and these were the same students I had corresponded with the previous school year when they were in kindergarten," Denisar said.
"My dad had nothing but positive things to say about Katie, whom he knew from boards they served on together. He told me she was a very nice, young lady with a good head on her shoulders. "We emailed and sent regular mail back and forth," explained Katie. "I was able to use a lot of the information Brad gave us, such as learning vocabulary words like 'camouflage' to learning about the Milky Way that he said he could see clearly from the mountains in Afghanistan. The students worked hard practicing their reading so they could earn time to read a story to Brad via flip video, and I took pictures of their writing to email him."
Since the student's writing was limited at the beginning of the school year, Katie recorded short videos of her students to email. "They read stories, told jokes, explained what we were learning in school and asked Brad questions," Katie said. "Since he had access to a computer at all times, Brad emailed back [quickly], and I'd project his email on my 'smart' board so the class could all read it together." Katie said the class also sent candy, granola bars and toiletry items for Brad. "I shared all the gifts and correspondence with my Soldiers and fellow officers," said Denisar. "It really boosted morale to get care packages with candy and other snacks." Denisar said since a lot of the students from Katie's school came from impoverished Families, "They didn't get to do a lot of things I did as a kid, like carve pumpkins for Halloween. I love holidays and Katie picked up on that from the emails, so she would tie me back to home by bringing in pumpkins to carve with the students.
"That was the first time I recall seeing Katie on video as she was usually the one filming. She passed the camera to her aide, and I thought she was a student at first because she's very petite," he added. "I sent photos of me with the helicopters and the area in Afghanistan where we were stationed," Denisar said. "She made a bulletin board displaying the photos, and I also displayed the kids' drawings and pictures." After Denisar redeployed back to Fort Campbell in December, 2010, he was welcomed home by his father, his twin brother Brent, and his best friend, Scott Brown.
"My father had a welcome home sign with him that Katie's class made for me along with a book that Katie had printed with her student's art work, titled 'For our Hero.'" Denisar and Katie continued to correspond after the deployment and she continued corresponding and sending care packages to Soldiers still deployed from Denisar's unit who continued their deployment overseas. "The communication wasn't as often after I returned," said Denisar. "I really wanted to go meet the kids and thank everyone for what they did for me while I was deployed. I had promised I would do that and I'm a man of my word, but my schedule was very hectic when I returned."
After about two months, Denisar phoned Katie to coordinate schedules and said "there was only one weekend I could make it. If that didn't work out, the chance was slim I would be able to visit the kids," he said. Denisar's father and Katie went out to dinner, then arrived together to meet his late flight in Peoria, Ill. "I can wiggle my ears and remember wiggling my ears at her," laughed Denisar. "I knew before I returned to my house that night I was head over heels for him," Katie remembered. "At school, all my teacher friends could sense my glow."
The next day, Katie recalled the entire school was excited in anticipation of Denisar's arrival. "Since he had been deployed a [full calendar] year, we decided we should re-celebrate all of the holidays so we could catch him up," she said. "We had an all-day holiday party complete with Halloween costumes, an Easter Egg hunt, Valentine cookies, ornaments, Thanksgiving dinner for lunch and birthday cake." Katie said her students were speechless, and so well behaved when they first met the Army officer [who arrived in his combat uniform].
"They were amazed at this superhero-like figure they corresponded with all year," she said. "During our 'Christmas' party, Brad surprised all of us with gray Army T-shirts and had each student's name printed on the back of their shirt. The kids wore them about every other day for the remainder of the school year. Luckily he came in the middle of May." Denisar remembered the kids singing "The Army Song" for him. "I also had the opportunity to talk with the kids about my deployment, including an entire school assembly to see a slide show of photos I brought from Afghanistan, including panoramic views of the area, Army vehicles and Soldiers," he said." I also purchased Army coins and presented them to my dad and Katie for their service to me and what they do as teachers." Denisar invited Katie to spend time with him, his father and his best friend who flew in from Chicago to visit for the weekend. "We went out to eat, played board games, visited my deceased grandparent's farm, my grandfather's grave site and also met Katie's parents," he said. "We had a wonderful time together.
"We agreed to stay in touch and continued to communicate and decided to have a [long distance] relationship." However, things took a very unexpected turn two weeks after the first meeting. "I had initially suggested visiting her again, but that week didn't work out for her schedule," Denisar recalled. "My dad had a heart attack. Initially, he was diagnosed at an urgent care clinic as having a mild heart attack, but because he waited 18 hours to go to emergency care, he was sent by ambulance to the emergency room and diagnosed with a major heart attack." Denisar initially heard from his sister saying their father had a stroke, but called back to give him the correct information. "I walked into my battalion commander's office and burst into tears," he said. "My battalion commander put me in contact with my chaplain and the first person I contacted was Katie, because she was the only person in Galesburg I knew."
While Denisar was traveling to be with his father, Katie drove down to the hospital there to check on his father, staying with him [with his father's permission] until Denisar arrived. "Then my mother's flight got delayed, she couldn't get a rental car. Katie took me down to Bloomington, Ill., to pick up my mom. It was on that drive that Denisar knew not many people would do all Katie was doing to help him and his Family during a crisis. "I felt like if things continued between us, she very well could be the one.
"My mother had reservations about Katie being so involved, especially with my dad being the school superintendent and of course, she didn't know Katie and if she would talk about my father's emergency. Not one word was said about his situation. Katie was even allowed in the hospital room while my Family discussed my father's health situation," Denisar said. "Katie was there for us and really helped a lot."
Denisar and his four siblings rotated coming to Illinois to spend a week each with their father to help him after the heart attack. "Katie met my entire Family one sibling at a time when they were there," he said. Denisar continued traveling back to Illinois to visit his father while he was recovering from his heart attack and said Katie also came down to Fort Campbell and spent part of her summer vacation with him. "I wanted to expose her to some of the Army also," he said.
"She met my commander and got to attend a change of command ceremony." While the long-distance relationship continued, Denisar was told he was transferring to the Kansas City, Mo., Military Entrance Processing Station. "I looked forward to it, because it would be a bit slower tempo work environment, I could go to school, my brother and his Family live there, and Katie and I would only be five to six hours' drive from one another and continue to date long distance," said Denisar.
When Denisar was back in Illinois helping care for his father, he received word he had been nominated for his current position on JBM-HH, arriving in August, 2010. Agreeing they didn't want to be so far apart, Denisar proposed later that summer, and he and Katie were married on Jan. 1, 2011. "I was a little nervous about entering the Army Family after Brad had already served for seven years. I was introduced to the Army Officers' Wives' Club of the Greater Washington Area shortly after moving here," said Katie who admitted she's learned a lot of Army lingo in the past year and is still learning.
"Being new and very naïve, I was quickly picked up to be on the board and serve as the tours chairperson. I also volunteer at the Fort Myer Thrift Shop." The Denisars, who reside in Alexandria, celebrated their first wedding anniversary in January, and Katie was recently hired to teach third grade at Claremont Immersion School in Arlington. "AOWCGWA really saved me. I had never moved away from my hometown before [besides college] and was transitioning from the move, adjusting to married life, trying to figure out this Army life and was trying to find a job and figure out my next career move. The ladies offered tons of support and encouragement and were full of good advice," Katie said.
"It has been wonderful how friendly, hospitable and truly caring other Army wives and Families are, having the experience in their past to understand the struggles and joys of Army life," said Katie.
"I am so humbled at seeing how much Army Families sacrifice to protect our freedoms and how they do it with an unselfish attitude and humility."