As each moment passed, Richard Ortega found it harder to control his emotions.
Ortega, a second grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary School, was honored Friday by the students and staff at the school during a special assembly.
Ortega will be deployed to Afghanistan in early March as part of the U.S. Navy Seabees (Mobile Construction Battalion 15). Friday was his last day on the job as he prepares to first head to Gulfport, Miss. before heading overseas.
T-R PHOTO BY ANDREW POTTER
Woodbury Elementary School students held a special send-off ceremony Friday for Richard Ortega, right. Ortega is a second grade teacher being deployed to Afghanistan. A special assembly was held, then students lined the hallways with flags to honor him.
"Everybody's been super nice," Ortega said. "I feel loved."
Several student groups wrote poems and books to honor their teacher. One poem was titled "Our Hero" and a book was titled "My Teacher is a Super Hero."
"They put a lot of work into it and I appreciate all they did," Ortega said.
One of Ortega's students, Brenden Finders, said he will miss him and is grateful for his service.
"It's generous and helpful to our country," the second grader said.
Marshalltown High School choir students sang the National Anthem and fourth graders sang "America the Beautiful" at the event in the Woodbury gym. There was a banner displayed that read "Our Hero" with a drawing of Ortega next to it made by the students.
Ortega has previously served overseas in Kuwait in 2005. He has taught at Woodbury for just more than five years and has made an impact on the students and district staff.
"We think a great deal of you and really appreciate all you've done," said Marshalltown Superintendent Marvin Wade.
Near the end of the assembly, the microphone was passed to Ortega. He thanked the students and staff for the meaningful sendoff but then was at a loss for words as his emotions peaked.
After the assembly, the students lined the hallways at the school waving small American flags, chanting "USA!" and high-fiving Ortega.
"It was very patriotic," Ortega said. "It was great."
The students will now be pen pals with Ortega and his fellow Seabees in Afghanistan.
"I'll definitely keep in touch with everybody," Ortega said.