"I used to tell them, 'When you go out into the world, it's going to be twice as hard as what I'm doing to you,'" she said.
But as tough as Petty was, she also showed her students that she cared about them, Fowler said. She came to all his football games to cheer him on, and she would even give him a ride to school sometimes when he missed the bus.
"She was the only teacher who ever stopped and picked me up," he said.
Petty was also something of a one-woman Army recruiting station. She was a captain in the National Guard at the time, and often encouraged her students to join the military.
"I always told my students, 'Go Army! Go Army! Stay in for 20 years and make a career out of it,'" she said.
Many of her students followed her advice. Petty said she has more than 100 former students who are now on active duty in the military, including four in her battalion alone.
When Fowler decided to join the Army, he found that "Miss Petty" had prepared him well for the discipline and structure of military life.
And thanks to all the push-ups she had made him do, he never had to worry about Army physical training.
"To this day, I've never had a PT test where I didn't max my push-ups," he said.
Fowler always knew he would run into Petty again at some point because of how small St. Thomas is - the island has a population of 45,000, about the same number as Fowler's home station of Fort Bragg, N.C.
"Most people tend to cross paths," he said.
But finding themselves working side by side in Iraq was a happy surprise for both. Fowler's job requires him to spend a lot of time coordinating logistics at the Camp Taji Mayor's Cell, where Petty works.
As a result, her office has become somewhat of a home away from home for him, he said.
Soon his unit will be pushing out to conduct operations in other areas of Iraq, Fowler said. He expects to return only periodically to Camp Taji. But when he does make it back, Petty can count on a visit, he said.
"When I come back here, this is the first place I'm coming to,"he said.