"Each time I've gone, when I come back to America, I'm just more thankful that I live in America."
CHAMPAIGN — After a deployment to Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Yvette Lane-Rose returns to civilian life Tuesday as an assistant school principal.
The first and second questions she's bound to get from students?
"If I killed somebody," she said. The answer: "No, ma'am."
Or, "Did you see a dead body? No, ma'am."
As area educators go, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more compelling story than Lane-Rose's. The 45-year-old has been working two jobs on and off for the last 28 years — one in the Army Reserves, which has taken her to Kuwait, Iraq and, most recently, Afghanistan from September of last year until September of this year. There's also her academic career, with stops at Dr. Howard Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School, Centennial High School and, starting Tuesday, Stratton Leadership and Microsociety Magnet School. That's a temporary post; next year, she'll be back at Centennial.
In military life, making sure a group of people understands a certain concept is crucial, and it's a skill Lane-Rose learned before becoming a teacher in 2000.
As a result, in a classroom of 24, she'd know if certain students needed extra help and would make adjustments for them while teaching.
"Now," she said, "the soldiers I meet along the way, even if they don't know me or know what I do as a civilian, they ask, 'Are you a teacher?'"
Lane-Rose's tour may be over, but her military duties don't stop there. She is still going through the debriefing process — the Army checks in with her every 30 days — and she still talks by phone with people she calls her "battle buddies."
Will she be deployed again? "Not that I know of."
Military service runs in her family. Lane-Rose is married with six kids, including a son and daughter who have served in the Army. Her daughter was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq at the same time Lane-Rose was in those countries, and she worked as a contractor in Afghanistan while Mom was there. Lane-Rose saw her son in Afghanistan, as well.
As much as she loved those brief family reunions, Lane-Rose is most grateful to be back among all her family members.
"Each time I've gone, when I come back to America, I'm just more thankful that I live in America," she said.
Lane-Rose shared a few of her most memorable experiences during her distinguished career in the Army Reserves.
On the things soldiers miss most while serving overseas:
"I'm not a big coffee drinker, but I saw soldiers struggling because they didn't have a Starbucks there. People sent a lot of coffee in care packages. I was making sure that people who liked coffee had it. One soldier who worked for me liked Hot Cheetos. My buddies asked about what they needed, and I said, 'Two big bags of Hot Cheetos.' ... Care packages and soldier support, we as soldiers really appreciate that. Everything from the toothpaste to the Q-tips, coffee, tissues ... Some soldiers have a PX (Post Exchange, a store) on the base, but some at outlying bases, they don't have a PX.
"When care packages come, the soldiers really appreciate those packages. Some can't afford to buy toiletries because they have families at home. ... And the letters that they send. Even if they don't know me by name, someone is in support of me. I've kept those.
"Send books, because a lot of soldiers read. We as soldiers appreciate all those items, down to the toothbrushes."
On the scariest situation she encountered:
"Every day, when the alarm goes off. We work with a lot of locals on the base with us. You would think the base was basically safe, but we had to do a lot of training on what they call 'the insider threat.' It's just the threat of being in Afghanistan, just the threat of what could happen every day. ... The alarm goes off, and you have to think, 'Where is it? What area is it in? Do I stay in my containerized housing unit? Do I stay in the office? Should I draw my weapon?'
"The alarm goes off and you stay on the floor for two minutes. If you're not in a hard building — a hard-stand building is anything made out of brick or mortar — you come out of the building and go get in a concrete bunker. ... We'd wait until whatever the threat is cleared and come back and go back work. Sometimes we were in there for five minutes. One time, we were in there for three hours.
"Sometimes we'd come back and go back to work, and the alarm goes off again. We'd have to turn around and go back into the bunker."
On the "Have you ever killed someone?" question that so many ask:
"When I have people who have served in the military come to school, I tell (students) they can ask any question, but do not ask if they've killed anybody. Some soldiers have to.
"In Kuwait, I did force protection. It's the last line of defense coming into the base. You only have a few seconds to make a decision. If you tell them to stop and they don't, do you let come in or shoot? That's a decision you have to make.
"(One) time, when I had to go to a meeting, I was on a plane with remains. It had nine seats available for soldiers to go to another base. They asked if we were going to be OK with that. They had the ceremony to put the remains on the aircraft, and we had to stay on plane to take the remains off. The military's really particular about remains. Some people are not OK with it. I had a young soldier with me. I thought that was a good experience for them because something like that would never happen again in his lifetime."
On how her missions have changed her:
"It's not in a sense where you can see the changes. ... I can share with family and my students that we really do have it made. You don't know that unless you go somewhere else where they don't have it made. Here, a female can get an education, or a woman being able to walk the streets by herself. ... Even though there are racial and socioeconomic divisions in America, it's not so paramount that it strangles the country.
"Some of the countries we've gone to, one person is in charge and everything he says goes. And if you object, you're done. If you don't like President Obama, you can say so and still go to work the next day.
"I was in Iraq during the elections. The Iraqis were risking their lives to go vote. In America, we just go vote. When I came back and explain to the students and some of the teachers about the elections, I said, 'We need to be more thankful than we are.' That's how I change, I just get more and more thankful."