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2 Pinellas teachers report for military duty in Middle East

Two of Pinellas County's teachers have received new, faraway assignments since the school year began. Both teachers, members of reserve military units, have reported to bases in the Middle East.

The teachers are Lee Ann McCall, a physical education and health teacher at Boca Ciega High School in St. Petersburg, and Dennis Johnston, a television production teacher at the Pinellas Technical Education Center in St. Petersburg.

A long-term substitute is filling in for Ms. McCall. Other Technical Education Center teachers and an occasional substitute are covering for Johnston.

Ms. McCall's assignment "has really triggered an awareness of the whole Middle East situation among our students," Boca Ciega principal Barabara Paonessa said. "We really miss her."

Steve Crosby, in charge of personnel services for Pinellas County schools, said the district is lucky more of its 7,000 teachers have not been called for military duty.

Crosby said he is aware of others who are members of reserve units but knows of only one, Southern Oak Elementary principal Robert Ammon, likely to be called for service soon. Ammons' unit has been put on standby.

Ammon, a member of the Coast Guard Reserve who served with the Army in Vietnam, said his students at the Largo school recently wrote letters to military personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia.

"I hope I'm not one of the recipients," Ammon said.

Warren Laux, director of St. Petersburg's Pinellas Technical Education Center, said Johnston was a valuable teacher at the school and is sorely missed.

Fellow television production teacher Joe Crabtree said Johnston "did specialized work assemblying television programs" for students studying firefighting and Emergency Medical Services.

"We're doing the best we can" to fill in, Crabtree said.

Before Johnston left, "he expressed a hope he would be back to school in December," Crabtree said. "It's ironic, but a month before he was called up he was given the option of early retirement but he passed it up to serve out his enlistment. Then this."

Ms. Paonessa said Ms. McCall, who coached the girls cross country team at Boca Ciega, already has written a letter to the school which was read over the intercom.

"Her main concern was to come home quickly and safely," Ms. Paonessa said. The school has only one other teacher in the military reserves who is subject to a call.

"It's really a weird feeling to have one of your teachers go off to a possible war," Ms. Paonessa said.

Crosby said the two teachers have been granted a leave of absence, 30 days of full pay, and the right to come back to their same position if they return within a year. If their tours of duty last longer than a year, they are guaranteed a teaching job in the district although the job might be at a different school, Crosby said.