Middle school principal gets call to serve country

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Salem - posted Tue., Feb. 28, 2012
Salem Middle School Principal James Moran, by the flag presented to him by the medical unit he led while serving in Iraq.  Moran will soon be deployed to a Warrior Transition unit in California for a year.
Salem Middle School Principal James Moran, by the flag presented to him by the medical unit he led while serving in Iraq. Moran will soon be deployed to a Warrior Transition unit in California for a year.

Salem Middle School Principal James Moran should have known that something was up when he put in a request to postpone his yearly two-week training as a member of the Connecticut National Guard, which conflicted with the school’s graduation.  After a couple of months with no word, he called, “and they said, ‘Oh, yeah, we need to talk to you about that,’” said Moran.  And it was then that he found out that not only was he going to miss the graduation, but he was going to be gone much longer than two weeks.

Earlier this year, Moran, who is just finishing his second year as principal, found out that he is being deployed for the next year with the 118th Medical Battalion, the very Battalion that two years ago his students had Skyped with as part of their Veterans' Day celebration.

“It was totally out of the blue. I had no idea,” said Moran, who will function as a Patient Administration Officer with a Warrior Transition Unit in McClellan, Calif. There, he will track the movements of wounded and injured soldiers and make sure that they are getting the care that they need.

“It’s not a glorious task, by any means. I’m buried in paperwork every day,” said Moran. But it is a skill that was needed, and Moran’s past experience made him a perfect fit for the job. He joined the National Guard 21 years ago, while in college, signing on for a six-year commitment.  “And next thing you know, I’m over the 10-year mark,” he said, which helped him make the decision to stay on and make a career of it. 

“Then 20 years came and went, and I still had some things that I needed to accomplish,” he said, so he stayed on. In those 20 years, he has done several jobs, from working as a mechanic to working in aviation. For the last eight years, he worked in the medical unit, serving in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 at an Air Force theater hospital.

“We treated and transported over 10,000 patients while I was there,” he said.  He left as company commander of the 141st Medical Company, and displays the unit's flag in his office.

“It’s been rewarding to me.  I’ve learned a lot,” said Moran, who developed a sense of national pride in his 20-plus years of service. “I went overseas and I came back a different person. I appreciate things a little more. I don’t take things for granted so much,” he said.

Fortunately, this deployment is to a much safer area - California.  “That’s the silver lining.  It could have been a lot worse,” he said.

Nonetheless, it will be difficult not only for Moran and his family, which, with two children in high school, will be staying in Connecticut, but also for the students, who have come to know and admire Moran in his two years at Salem Middle School, and for the administration, which was faced with the task of finding an interim principal on short notice.

When he informed the school system about his deployment, “everybody was in shock,” said Moran, but plans were developed immediately to find an interim principal, as his departure is set for March 9.

“It will be tough if [the interim principal] is not on board by then,” he said.  While he hopes to spend some time with the interim principal, Moran said that he has also prepared a manual describing the duties.  “It’s almost a 'user manual for dummies' sort of thing,” he joked.  And he should also be available in case problems arise. Likewise, Moran plans to keep open the lines of communication with his students.  

“I’ve had a lot of hugs, a lot of ‘We’re going to miss you,’” said Moran, adding, “And it’s good to feel that. I feel like I belong to Salem now.”  He plans on communicating with students via Skype, and hopes that he can still participate in the graduation ceremony, if only virtually. 

“I’ve only been here two years, but I feel like Salem is my home away from home. I love this community and I love the kids. I couldn’t ask for better kids.  I know that I’m coming back, and I want the kids to know that I’m coming back,” said Moran, who told the story of one special needs student that was particularly upset with his departure. After failing to reassure the student, Moran had an idea that helped ease the students stress. He gave the student one of his medals and told the student, “If you’re worried, if you’re upset, if you need Mr. Moran, just hold onto this and think about Mr. Moran, and I’ll be thinking about you.”

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