Goodbye for now, Mr. Durbin

South Whidbey High School teacher Steve Durbin was surprised Friday morning with a farewell ceremony in the school
South Whidbey High School teacher Steve Durbin was surprised Friday morning with a farewell ceremony in the school's commons. Durbin, an Army reservist, was called to active duty Wednesday night. Presenting some of the gifts to him are Faith Huget-Towne and Hailie Mansfield.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

South Whidbey High School students bid a tearful farewell to one of their favorite teachers Friday.

English teacher Steve Durbin, a member of the Army Reserves, was called to active duty and told to report to Fort Lewis in Tacoma Monday morning.

Students and faculty gathered in the high school commons area and surprised Durbin with a cake, a Falcon shirt and several oversize cards signed by students and teachers.

Principal Mike Johnson told the group Durbin will be missed.

"But he has been called to protect and serve his country," Johnson said. "I know he would much rather be here with his family and students."

A surprised Durbin smiled his thanks to everyone, but was too emotional to speak.

Senior Katrina Whiteman seemed to reflect the thoughts of many of Durbin's students, who can't imagine class without him.

"It's just terrible to see him go. We will miss him."

Durbin teaches advanced placement English and film as literature.

"We want him home before graduation," senior Maya Kocian said.

Durbin, 56, a non-commissioned officer and a medical trainer, doesn't know where he will be assigned.

"I expect if I am sent to the Middle East, my assignment will be in an emergency medical room," he said. "If I stay in the states, I will be training emergency medical personnel.

"I don't expect I will be running through the sand," Durbin said.

His reserve unit has been on alert status since last fall, so he has been getting things in order.

"We were told to enjoy our Thanksgivings, because we probably wouldn't be home for Christmas," he said.

But there are last minute details to take care of. The end of the semester is next week, so Durbin, with the assistance of his student teacher, Mary Aguilar, is preparing semester grades.

Durbin has also prepared a letter for all his students and their parents.

Based on previous experience, Durbin says he expects war in Iraq could begin in about a month.

"It usually takes a week or two to process paper and medical work once we are called to active duty before we are assigned."

The call-up isn't a new experience for Durbin, who served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and spent six months in 1992 flying medivac helicopters in Saudi Arabia.

He has been on either active duty or in the reserves for 23 years.

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