A grandmother in eastern Iowa is getting one last call to duty.
Janet Grass, 52, had planned to retire from the military in about 10 months after spending 19 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Instead, she has been ordered to leave her job as a special-education teacher in Cascade to do security work in the Middle East.
"They're changing my career just as I'm retiring," she said. "I guess they wanted to try one more thing for me."
Grass boarded an airplane Thursday at the Dubuque Regional Airport amid emotional goodbyes from her family, which includes four children and six grandchildren.
Grass will train in California and Texas before deploying to Iraq for 12 to 18 months.
"Being over there is being in a different world," said her son Tim, who has also served in the military. "It's about being mentally strong to face things that will confront her. She's good. She'll do fine."
Grass, a petty officer first class, recalled how her son had also served in Iraq in 2003.
"I'm taking over for Tim," she said, smiling as she prepared to board the airplane. "I get to play in the big sandbox and teach them to play nice. That's the teacher in me."
Grass said the toughest part of shipping out was saying goodbye to 300 youngsters at Cascade Elementary School, where a send-off assembly was conducted in her honor. "It was a rough one," she said.
As Grass prepared to board the airplane, a grandson grabbed her leg in embrace. She smiled at the boy. "I'll be back," she said.
Her sisters Julie Small and Jolene Petesch stood nearby, sobbing and holding each other in support. Tim Grass, holding a small American flag, watched his mother pass through the terminal gate as other family members questioned the timing of the deployment.
"I think it's wrong," Jolene Petesch said, noting that her sister was about to retire from the military. "The military screwed up there, and I'm angry about it.
"It's another Vietnam. We don't belong there, but I still support our troops."