VALDOSTA -- J.L. Newbern Middle School's Ashley Holliman, 11, misses seeing Principal Fred Davis in the halls of the Park Avenue campus.
"He always said hello to us in the halls," she said. "I miss him encouraging us to be our best and giving us good advice like respecting ourselves, our fellow students and our elders."
Davis, a chief warrant officer in charge of petroleum distribution with the Army Reserves, was deployed two weeks ago. As of Tuesday, he was stationed at Fort Stewart awaiting further orders, said seventh-grade Assistant Principal Artice Haugabrook, who has assumed Davis's duties.
She said Davis expects to receive those orders, which could be anything from coming home to traveling to another base in the United States to heading to Iraq, within the next 15 days.
"He called us (Tuesday) morning to let us know that he was OK," Haugabrook said. "He said to tell the students that he loves them and that we are all in his thoughts and prayers everyday."
Twelve-year-old Jerry Stacks is both worried about and proud of his fearless leader.
"I felt really scared when I found out that he was being sent away," he said. "I don't want him to get hurt. At the same time, I am happy he is doing a good thing for our country."
Janice Armstrong, teacher, said the official schoolwide announcement about Davis's whereabouts did not come until a few days after his deployment. Haugabrook said Davis received about two days notice of his deployment. Since that time, every member of the J.L. Newbern family has been concerned about Davis' safety.
"He's like family to me," said Shelby Lamar, 12. "He has helped me learn to respect myself when no one else would."
She recalled an incident when she wore a T-shirt to school featuring a potentially risque statement across the front.
"He took the time to talk to me about that," Lamar said. "He told me that if I did not feel comfortable explaining what the statement meant that I should not feel comfortable wearing it. I really thought about that. I think the same is true for a lot of things that will come up in my life."
She hopes Davis returns soon because his leadership is what keeps the J.L. Newbern campus functioning properly, she said.
"I pray for the war to end soon and for everyone involved to return safely," said Torace Solomon, 12.
He said before Davis's deployment, the war in Iraq seemed so impersonal and far away. "Having someone from my world involved makes me pay attention to the situation a little more," Solomon said.
Looking at the television news reports now, he said, is a whole new ballgame. He no longer stares at a screen full of strangers. He's too busy looking for a particular face.
The middle school's Science Club members are hanging yellow ribbons in honor of Davis throughout school grounds. Armstrong said the yellow ribbons will continue to hang until the principal returns home safely, which may not be before the 2002-03 school year ends.
To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255