Sitting at his desk at Riverwatch Middle School, John James IV smiles as the Friday morning sun pours through his back window, illuminating a framed “Happy Veterans Day” piece of artwork signed, “from your RMS family.”
The assistant principal, also a Marine reservist, commands respect through his easygoing attitude, emanating pride of school and pride of country as he plans for his last few days at Riverwatch.
Beginning Nov. 15, James, who has served as Riverwatch’s assistant principal for three years after spending a number of years teaching elementary and middle school students, will report for duty at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, where he will be serving as one of the operations chiefs for the Personnel Retrieval Platoon (PRP,) which recovers, processes and evacuates fallen service members and Department of Defense personnel from locations around the world.
“I haven’t even had time to think about [being deployed]. This has happened so quickly,” he said. “I found out that my orders got authenticated and that I was tasked with doing this about four weeks ago so the turnaround time is pretty quick. But I’ve worked really hard here to set them up for success so that when I leave, the person who is replacing me is ready [as far] forward as January when the kids come back [to school.]”
While he won’t be going into combat or overseas himself, James expects to be in the position for about a year, meaning he will likely return to Riverwatch in November or December of 2018.
“[At the base,] I’ll be a senior enlisted advisor assisting these officers and planning training, making sure all of the requirements are met for them to stay up to par where they should be as Marines and getting them ready for the next mission,” James said. “I’ll be coordinating that effort with the Marines who are deployed to Central America [for humanitarian aid].”
James’ call to duty comes on the heels of Veterans Day, which honors the men and women who have served their country.
“I found out that my orders got authenticated and that I was tasked with doing this about four weeks ago so the turnaround time is pretty quick. But I’ve worked really hard here to set them up for success so that when I leave, the person who is replacing me is ready [as far] forward as January when the kids come back [to school.]”John James IV, Riverwatch Middle School teacher
Though he does not consider himself a veteran — he said that title will come once he retires or no longer serves as a reservist — he said he tries to teach his students how privileged they are thanks to U.S. veterans.
“The country that we live in and the way that they view the military is very supportive, particularly the community of Forsyth County, and they see the benefit of what we’re doing,” he said. “But I think there are a lot of people who don’t understand the sacrifice these people give, as reservists or active duty. They always talk about the sacrifice of so few for so many, and you have very few people who go through that to benefit so many.”
James said though he, thankfully, has not lost a loved one to combat, even going to other countries and seeing what they do and do not have impresses upon him how lucky Americans are.
“Having been deployed to places like Iraq and seeing infrastructure and schools and what they don’t have has given me an opportunity to see what we, as Americans, really do have,” he said.
Added James: “The things that we complain about — and we throw out this term, ‘first world problems’ — those kinds of things really are [first world privileges]. Our kids have so much opportunity, and I tell kids I may have disciplinary issues with: ‘you don’t realize how fortunate you are to come to a school like this and have a hot lunch and breakfast for you every day.’ These are things we just take for granted.”
He said that, without veterans, “we could easily not have those things,” which is why it’s important to recognize the luxuries Americans do have.
“I think it becomes part of the white noise or it just blends in until big things happen,” he said. “[Those] — a 9/11 or some tragic event — bring it to light again, but time goes on and people just kind of lose sight. For me, it’s every day, and I see that every day. It’s just a part of who I am, because I’m a marine all the time. Even though I’m a reservist, you’re still a Marine 24/7, so those before me that forged the way for us to have what we have and the honor that it is to serve the way that I do, I think about that every day.”