Garden City Steve Chamberlain received a big welcome back Friday when he returned to his teaching duties after a year in Iraq.
Members of all nine classes at Edith Scheuerman Elementary School read letters welcoming him and thanking his son, Danny, for filling in for him.
"We'll miss your son, but we are happy to have you back," said fourth-grader Valeria Terrazas.
Chamberlain, a sergeant first class with the Army Reserve's 443rd Transportation Company, was among about 30 soldiers from western Kansas who returned Jan. 25.
Students wore red, white and blue at an assembly for Chamberlain, a physical education teacher who also teaches at Jennie Wilson Elementary School.
"I feel like I'm at the Oscars. Who do I thank?" Chamberlain said. "You've shown what a wonderful family we have here at Edith Scheuerman and what a wonderful district we have here."
About 180 members of the 443rd, which is based in Great Bend, were ordered to active duty in December 2003. They were stationed near Tikrit, in the Sunni triangle, but drove convoys over much of Iraq.
"My only regret for Mr. Chamberlain is that I wish his entire company and all his friends in Iraq could be here for this welcome home," said Sandy Almos, the school principal. "And also that all of them could receive a welcome like this."
Second-grader Jonathon Lopez's letter explained how everyone felt.
"We missed you while you were gone," he read. "Please don't go back to Iraq."