For Ann Mazur, the bright spot of each day was checking to see if she had any mail. Sometimes she would get letters from friends and family, and other times she would get care packages filled with goodies and pictures of Providence Elementary students celebrating their latest milestone. As she read them, she would think back to where she was just a few months ago, in Fairfax, where the weather was nice and it was easy to drive.
But Mazur wouldn't regret leaving her home for a year to become a soldier stationed in Iraq for several months. Although Mazur has finished her tour of duty, she hoped others wouldn't forget the soldiers still in Iraq, as well as in other countries, who also need the thoughts and prayers of friends and family here.
"I'm really thankful that people came out to show me support, but I don't want people to forget there are 100,000 troops out there," Mazur said.
The Providence Elementary community celebrated the homecoming of their sixth-grade teacher on Friday, March 19, with an assembly and a "Welcome Home" banner strung across the stage of the auditorium. At the celebration, Mazur, a sergeant in the Army Reserve, described to students and teachers how it was like living day-to-day in Iraq.
MAZUR HAD abruptly left the school over Presidents Day weekend last year and departed for Baghdad in May. She returned to Virginia in January and started teaching again at Providence a year after her departure.
"It's reassuring to see her again every day and know that she is back with children," said Providence Elementary principal Joy Hanbury.
To relate what it was like living in Iraq, Mazur prepared a slide show of places and sights she would see every day, such as the 8-by-10 space where she slept, the bathroom and the dining room. In Iraq, the temperature was often a hot 110 degrees, and she felt like there was dust everywhere.
"You never really got clean," Mazur said.
ASSIGNED TO support the military police, Mazur had pictures of the children she met on the way to work. The children picked up some English, the soldiers picked up some Arabic, and both played games together on the street occasionally.
When the soldiers could relax, they could watch television or play video games with the PlayStation. Occasionally, they could e-mail. For meals, packaged food had become a popular, if necessary, resource: hot cocoa, pound cake and chili macaroni were staples.
Letters and packages were a highlight of Mazur's day, not just receiving them but sending them as well. Her friend Laura May was one of the teachers at Providence who regularly heard from Mazur every four to five weeks.
"I think it was hard for her because there were a lot of things she really couldn't say," May said.
Mazur also described to students the familiar sights of Baghdad: the crowded marketplace, a vendor selling prized soda and ice to soldiers, the tomb of the unknown soldier.
She had a picture of a scorpion, which roused the attention of the younger students watching the slide show on the gymnasium floor.
"Oh! Ew!" said students.
WHEN HER time in Baghdad ended, Mazur and other soldiers drove in humvees back to Kuwait. Since it was the holiday season, they decorated their vehicles with large ribbons and bows. Mazur had a small Christmas tree in her humvee.
Mazur and her fellow soldiers crossed the border to Iraq just one hour before the U.S. military captured Saddam Hussein.
Now that Mazur is back in Virginia, she has had to adjust not only to being a teacher again, but to living in the United States. She told May how she needed to become accustomed to driving here. In Virginia, Mazur could drive looking straight ahead, but in Iraq, she would have to look around her constantly, looking for any potential trouble that could arise.
"It's really nice. We're enjoying having her back," May said. "She's really enjoying being back with the kids."