Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Guardsman-Teacher Returns to School; Iraq Duties over, Classroom Ahead

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Guardsman-Teacher Returns to School; Iraq Duties over, Classroom Ahead

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski, Times-Union staff writer

BRUNSWICK -- Jarret Cox looked a little overwhelmed yesterday as he was welcomed back to his classroom at Altama Elementary School with cheers, American flags, red, white and blue balloons and patriotic songs.

Cox, 29, is returning to his teaching duties after being deployed for about five months when his Georgia Air National Guard unit was called to active duty for the war in Iraq.

A senior airman, Cox was in his sixth week teaching when called up in February. His colleagues and students gave him a rousing send-off, then kept in touch via e-mail sent by his cousin, Kelsi Nolen, also a teacher at the school.

"When I'd get their letters, it made me want to cry because I missed them [students], but it also inspired me to do my job," Cox said.

Cox served in a communications unit assigned to tactical air control. It was responsible for combat communications and coordinating airstrikes, helicopter rescues and rapid deployment of Special Forces troops. The unit returned to the United States on July 2.

Yesterday, Cox's school family -- 75 teachers, administrators and support staff -- welcomed him home. He received a standing ovation from the crowd, which included district administrators, school board members and retired Marine Col. Franklin Hart, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4092.

Principal Rebecca O'Neal described Cox as a "returning hero" and recalled the mixture of pride and sadness she felt when he left to go to war.

"He has served his country with pride, valor and humility. . . . And we are grateful that our prayers have been answered and he is back with us now," O'Neal said.

Cox will serve his country in the classroom with the same honor and dedication as he did on the battlefield, Hart said.

"I know a lot of children are anxiously awaiting your return to the classroom," he told Cox. "One of the most important jobs in our society is educating our children."

Flushing from the praise, Cox gave the audience an overview of his experiences during the war.

Cox said his unit initially spent about a month undergoing training at Fort Stewart, then shipped out to a military staging area in Jordan. …

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