Her career in uniform
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 20, 2012 1:46 PM
DUDLEY -- A part of her wants to stay -- to again hold off on a retirement she has planned, and postponed, every year for the last decade.
She doesn't want to let them down -- the young men and women who became members of her family the day they entered the JROTC classroom at Southern Wayne High School.
But after 44 years in an Air Force uniform, Janet Teasley knows it's finally time -- even if she still can't quite imagine what it will feel like when she sees a school bus passing by, knowing she won't be among those waiting to greet its passengers when they arrive on the campus she has called home for more than two decades.
"I want to do something different, and if I don't go now, I might get too old to do it," she said. "But I hate to leave these kids. That's gonna be the hardest thing."
She wanted to go to college -- to leave the small military town she grew up in pursuit of something more.
But with little money and ailing parents, she stayed in Goldsboro -- not knowing that one day, a downtown stroll would change her life.
"I just happened to be walking downtown and I saw the recruiting sign and I said, 'Hmm. I'm going to go check it out.' Before I walked out I had already taken the test," Mrs. Teasley said. "I grew up in this Air Force town, and in our neighborhood, we always had military people. They would come and in a few years, they were packing up and going. I thought it was so exciting."
But as a little girl, she had no idea that years later, she would be one of them.
Her service sent her across the country -- to Texas, Alaska and beyond.
"Alaska was the most beautiful place I've ever been," she said. "At one time, I thought I would stay there forever."
But no matter where her service landed her, she always ended up back at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
"That's where I started working with the kids."
She was told that Southern Wayne was looking for an ROTC instructor -- that if she were eligible for retirement, she could submit her name for consideration.
"So that's what I did. I jumped right on it and I have loved it ever since," she said. "One thing I've learned about the kids is that if you give them enough trust, they won't let you down."
Some entered the military. Others went off to college and entered the corporate world.
But many might not have made it were it not for the structure provided by ROTC.
"You'll take some of those same (kids) who are out there now, the ones you don't have any faith in, and you put them in an environment like this -- give them some responsibility -- and they will be some of the very ones who impress you the most," Mrs. Teasley said. "You look at them and you just know that some of them are going to be a success. You expect a few of them to be president of the United States one day."
Perhaps that is why she has put off retirement for so long.
She doesn't want to let them down.
"They're like my children. That's what I always say at the beginning of each year. When you come into this classroom, you're my children. I'm not gonna treat you any different than I treated my own," Mrs. Teasley said. "They are the ones that have kept me here all these years. Every time I think about going, they'll say, 'No. No. Wait until I graduate.' Even now, they're saying that."
But this time, she won't abide.
"I had been thinking about retirement for a while, but I kept staying because that's what the kids wanted me to do," she said. "But I've gotta go now, when I feel like I'm still young enough to have another life outside the school. I'm really gonna miss them ... but I don't know. It's time."
After March 30, her life will be different.
She will never again walk the halls inside Southern Wayne sporting her Air Force blues.
"I've been trying to think about how it's gonna feel," Mrs. Teasley said. "I mean, I've been wearing the uniform for 44 years."
But she will never forget all the military did to change her life -- how she got the chance to pass on the values a life of service instilled in her to future generations.
And even though she won't ever, in body, be with her "children" again, she vows to keep them in her heart -- always.
They, like the uniform she stepped into nearly every day for more than four decades, are, quite simply, a part of who she is.
"I do respect that uniform and that's one thing I've always taught here. I tell the students, 'When you're in it, every eye is on you. People, they aren't gonna look at that uniform and see that it says Southern Wayne High School. All they are gonna see is the blue,'" Mrs. Teasley said. "There's a lot of honor in that color. And just like these kids, it will always be a part of me."