By Camaron Abundes
FORT STOCKTON- It's a far cry from the battlefield, but Alamo Elementary Interim Principal Joe Baker knew when he traded his uniform for suits and ties, the battles would be a little different.
"Education is just about the most important thing we can do in this country." Baker says the goal for the students of Fort Stockton Independent School District is obviously making it to graduation but not everyone makes it. "I hate to lose just one, but sometimes it happens."
Baker left the Army in 1995 after serving 15 years as a Russian linguist during the cold war. Baker joined the Army in 1980 fresh out of college, when he left he became a special education teacher.
"I still wanted to do something important, that had an impact," Baker said.
Soon Baker worked up the ranks, and by the year 2000, he had worked up the ranks to principal.
"Although I would walk up and down the halls, I just wasn't running anymore," Baker said with a chuckle.
An order from the U.S. Government would change it all.
"It just said by the Authority of the President you are to report on or about this date," Baker opened the letter just a few weeks into the 2006/2007 school year. He was working as the Principal of F.S.I.S.D.'s Intermediate school.
"It was a shock to my parents and of course to my wife." Baker said he wanted to fulfill his duty to his country and his school.
Army officials authorized an extension, and in the summer of 2007, Baker went off for training and eventually on to Iraq.
"I just knew when I showed up for the in-processing someone was going to say oh my goodness we made a mistake--- you're just to old, you have got to go home, but every stop I made they said great, great on to the next station," he said.
The 47-year-old worked with Civil Affairs on projects for Iraqi schools and public utilities. During the deployment, a high ranking official authorized a clandestine Christmas mission.
"After a couple of helicopter rides, I was able to spend Christmas with my son." Baker said it was his wife's worst Christmas.
It wasn't the only chance meeting. Baker also ran into a former student he helped to graduate from College.
"I knew he had gone on to the Army, but I never new, I was going to bump into him," Baker said the former student earned a bronze star for valor. "Here's my old student who was from the alternative high school and was able to graduate and fulfill his dreams."
Baker returned in 2008 and started working odd jobs for the district. In 2009, Baker took over as Interim Principal at Alamo Elementary following the departure of embattled former principal Lorezno Flores, who resigned amid allegations he acted inappropriately with the staff.