Maj. Dan Wood has always tried to keep his life as a service member separate from his life as a teacher.
"They're two separate worlds," he said. "This is the first time they've collided."
Following a nearly one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan, Woods returned in uniform Monday, Nov. 7, to Ellicott Mills Middle School to resume his career as a technology education teacher.
After greeting the students on television during the school's morning announcements, Wood walked the halls and was hugged by co-workers and cheered by students.
"I'm a little blown away by this," said Wood, who has been teaching at the Ellicott City school for nearly 20 years. "It's heartwarming."
A member of the Maryland Army National Guard for 30 years, Wood thanked the school for the warm return and shared some lessons he learned during his time in the service.
"Cherish life and prosperity," said Wood, 50. "This may seem trite, but cherish the freedom we have here. We are so fortunate."
Wood, of Columbia, left for Kabul in early December 2010 as a combat engineer with Security Partners — American forces working with Afghan military and police to improve security in the country. It was his second deployment. When he served in Uzbekistan from 2004-2005, he was single. He returned home to Kings Contrivance two weeks ago, this time to a wife and three children.
"When a family's involved, it's a totally different picture," he said.
Wood's wife, Elina, is Russian, and is relatively new to this country. She doesn't have the support networks that sometimes take a lifetime to build, Wood said, but the school community rallied to help her and their children — a daughter, Nellie, 15, and two sons, George, 4, and Alex, 2.
"We told her, we're here for you in place of Dan. We were the stand-in family," said assistant principal Nancy Eisenhuth, who helped organize a support system with the Ellicott Mills PTA. Eisenhuth was there with the family in Baltimore when Nellie, Wood's Russian step-daughter, gained U.S. citizenship on Sept. 29.
Sequoia Williams, 13, one of the anchors on the Monday morning television program, said she was excited to share the stage with Wood.
"I felt really happy to talk to him, to be there with him," said the eighth-grader. "I had him in the sixth grade. He's a great teacher."
Denise Reid-DuBose, the school's speech pathologist, said it was good to see Wood back at work.
"This is so exciting," she said. "We're so glad he was able to come back. This is wonderful."
Wood said that there had been no guarantee he would be able to return to Ellicott Mills after his service.
"The principal told me he pretty much knew he'd try to save my position, (but) that's not a given," Wood said. "It's a gift. I'm happy to be back at the school I've worked at for so long."
Wood said he would use his experience in Afghanistan as part of his classroom teaching, discussing how cultures use technology differently.
"(I'll talk about) how it can be used and abused," he said. "For example, the Taliban has ancient views, but with new technology that can be very dangerous."
Wood also wants the community and students to know he had many positive experiences in Afghanistan..
"The country (of Afghanistan) is a melting pot of cultures," he said. "In a way, like us and very similar. The people I worked with were intelligent, wonderful people. They love their families. All we hear is bad news coming out of Afghanistan. There are wonderful people and wonderful things going on."