LaGrange High School students and band gathered at the front steps Monday morning to welcome back a teacher from Afghanistan after her deployment with the National Guard.
Staff Sgt. Nayda Ibarra was inundated with hugs from fellow teachers and talking to old and new students Monday after her year and a half away from the school. The Spanish teacher recently returned from a nine-month deployment with the 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, “Task Force Hydra,” a National Guard unit out of Fort Benning.
In her time in Afghanistan, Ibarra worked as an engineer, dealing with logistics and construction. She said that during her time in the camps in Afghanistan, she met a lot of great people, including Afghanistan residents and people from France, Bulgaria and Canada, and enjoyed Afghan food as well.
Ibarra said that she now is looking forward to getting back to a more normal daily life. Although she said her camp was not directly affected, her arrival coincided with tensions arising from the Feb. 22 burning of copies of Qurans by American soldiers at Bagram Base, causing protests and some attacks in Afghanistan.
Although tensions were initially high, Ibarra said her overall experience was positive. Ibarra stayed in the camp most of the time, leaving only for mission-essential trips.
“I tried to make the best of my time there,” Ibarra said. “I took Tae Kwon Do, exercise … gardening, participated in Operation Outreach Afghanistan (an organization that provides needed items to Afghan communities) … cooked.”
Ibarra said there also were salsa dance nights three times a week, which she enjoyed.
“The places are whatever you make of them,” she said.
Ibarra said Monday morning she was looking forward to getting caught up with her students and getting up to speed on teaching again. She said there are a lot of “old” faces among the students at the school, but lots of new ones as well.
Student council member Jessica Woodyard, who has been a student of Ibarra’s, helped organize the welcome. She said when they heard Ibarra was coming back, she knew they needed to put something together to welcome her after serving the country.
Ibarra said even when she was so far away, she always kept LHS close.
“Granger pride – I always had it, always,” she said.