Local reservist called up for active duty
Post Independent Staff
NEW CASTLE – Heather Smyth, an eighth-grader at Riverside School in New Castle, is scared that her teacher Jamie Burwell is being called up for active duty in the U.S. Army.
“I don’t know what’s exactly happening in Iraq,” she said, “but I’m still scared.”
Last Wednesday morning, Feb. 12, Burwell, 30, was a seventh-grade science teacher at Riverside School. He was also involved in student council, coaching girls basketball, and running an after-school store to raise funds for extracurricular programs.
“Jamie’s played a big leadership role at this school,” said Chuck Shupe, Riverside School’s principal. “He’s always positive, no matter what.”
But by Wednesday evening, Burwell was calling Shupe to say he had been called up for service and would have to leave his teaching position in just two days – by Friday, Feb. 14.
That meant clearing out his desk and belongings at school, saying good-bye to his wife, Dana, and their two little girls, Allison, 3, and Caroline, 1, other relatives, students, friends, and preparing for military service – all in a scant 48 hours.
Burwell’s father, John, of Rifle, said he was asked by his son, because of security concerns, not to divulge Burwell’s whereabouts. At this time, it’s unknown how long Burwell will remain on active duty.
Shupe knew Burwell was in the Reserves and that he could be called up anytime.
“In September and October, when things were happening in Iraq, we chatted about the possibilities of Jamie having to go, so it wasn’t a total surprise,” Shupe said.
Burwell may have had to make a quick exit, but he’ll get his job back when he returns to the valley. Shupe said that’s guaranteed.
In the meantime, Shupe’s plan is to look for a long-term substitute teacher.
“It’s like an employee taking a leave,” Shupe said. “Jamie is guaranteed a job in the district at the same status and the same pay. Whether it’s the same job in the same building, we can’t say.”
Burwell has deep roots in the Colorado River Valley – and in education. His father was the principal at Rifle High School, and his wife, Dana Burwell, teaches reading and language arts at Rifle Middle School.
It took Burwell some time to find his way to teaching.
“Jamie was born to teach,” said Shupe. “He’s absolutely outstanding. When he graduated from college, he had no intention of teaching. He tried several different things, but finally a light came on and he realized that he was meant to work with kids.”
John Burwell said his son attended the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley on a Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship, where he graduated with a degree in biology.
“Because of ROTC, he committed to eight years in the Reserves as a first lieutenant in the engineering corps,” John said.
John Burwell knows what it’s like to be called up. He was a second lieutenant during the Vietnam War, and was an officer candidate assigned to Ft. Benning, Ga.
John Burwell said his son typically dedicated one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer to ROTC. He said Jamie was a year and a half away from fulfilling his eight-year commitment before being called up last Wednesday.
For students like Heather Smyth, her teacher’s disappearance is making the threat of war seem closer and closer to home.
“We dedicated the Valentine’s dance to him,” she said of last weekend’s dance at Riverside School. “The band played the `Star Spangled Banner’ for him when he came in, and my friends and I gave him posters we made.”
Smyth is worried about Burwell, but reassured about his role in a possible conflict.
“Mr. Burwell is a combat engineer,” Smyth said. “He’ll be building bridges and things like that and won’t be in the line of war.”
That still doesn’t mean she and Burwell’s other students won’t miss him.
“Mr. Burwell is one of my most favorite teachers,” she said. “He was my science teacher last year and I was in his home room. He always made us laugh.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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