HARDEMAN COUNTY, Tenn. — A Tennessee school administrator is taking the role of public servant to the next level, as he's about to be deployed for his third mission in the Middle East.
Outside Hardeman County School headquarters, the American flag flies with pride, and inside the team couldn't be more proud of their patriotic leader, Superintendent Warner Ross.
"In this role, he is Mr. Ross. In this other role, he is Colonel Ross," said Bobby Doyle, interim director of Hardeman County Schools. "I've known Mr. Ross as long as I can remember."
Right now, Colonel Ross, brigade commander with the 194th Engineering Brigade out of Jackson, Tennessee, is at a mobilization station out of state, getting ready to go to the Middle East.
This will be his third deployment while working for the district.
"Maybe in some ways, it gets a little tougher," Ross told WREG over a video call. "A year is a long haul, it's a long ride. You're going to miss a lot of birthdays, Easters, Christmas."
Ross has served in the National Guard for three decades. He's been been an educator in Hardeman County for almost as long, following in the footsteps of family, he says he always felt a higher calling for public service.
"Just his deployment and his service and the kids watching him I think instills patriotism in our students," Doyle said.
Ross said he's even been able to interact with some former students within the military.
"I've had deployments where I've actually had students I've taught in the classroom or coached on the football field or was a principal for," Ross said. "At this point in my career, I can reflect back and say I know they made it. I know they understand the lessons that we were trying to teach them in school, and now here they are serving, and I get to see them as adults, as soldiers, as responsible folks, and that's just a great honor."
The colonel was quick to credit his family and his team within the district for keeping things moving steadily while he's gone.
"They all understood and supported my other job as a soldier, and my students have supported me, too, so I'm just blessed," Ross said.
Ross noted he's far from the only one sacrificing. When times get tough, comradery and the bigger picture of service keeps them going.
"Every one of these soldiers that are with me here left a job and left a family, and whether they're young or whether they're my age, they probably had those same thoughts, but at the end of the day, you look to your left, you look to your right, you see those soldiers there, they're going through those same things," Ross said. "You say, 'No, I'm going to continue to do this.'"
Ross will be gone for about the next year. He still speaks to those at the district frequently for school updates.
He and his brigade wanted to wish everyone in west Tennessee a Happy Thanksgiving.
Those we spoke with believe he is also one of a few district administrators who have also served in their current role and been actively deployed.