The Fight To Fit Back In
Craig Lewis had been gone so long that when he walked into the front office of Fluvanna County High School, the secretary gave him a quizzical look.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
She studied him with a blank expression for a moment, and then, suddenly, her eyes widened with recognition.
"You're back!" she said, smiling broadly.
"I am," Lewis said, his close-cropped hair still at Army standard.
He managed a smile, though it felt strange to be back in this squat brick building again. He'd grown up in this rural community outside of Charlottesville and, what now seemed like eons ago, had graduated from Fluvanna in 1997 before later being hired to teach and coach baseball at his alma mater. But it had been more than two years since he'd been a regular presence in these hallways. More than two years since Lewis, a lieutenant in the Virginia Army National Guard, had been ordered to flight school and then to Iraq as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. Now he was home and finally ready to see his old boss, Fluvanna principal James Barlow.
"Is he available?" Lewis asked the secretary.
"Let me check," she replied.
Lewis -- accompanied by a reporter chronicling his return to civilian life -- shuffled his feet nervously. Given the way he'd left here, it wasn't going to be easy asking for his job back.
When the Army National Guard had decided to send Lewis to flight school back in 2005, he initially thought he'd be able to finish the school year at Fluvanna before heading to Fort Rucker in Alabama. But, suddenly, the schedule had changed. The commander of the Guard's 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment had told Lewis to report to Fort Rucker within a week.
Lewis, floored, had begged for permission to finish the school year first. Otherwise he'd be leaving Barlow and his students in the lurch. But he was given no choice. This was what being in the National Guard was all about: One day you were a citizen, the next a soldier.