As the bell sounded signaling the end of the school day on Wednesday at Havelock High School, more than 100 students and faculty opted to stay a little longer to bid farewell to beloved science teacher, and Army reservist, Bert Bauzon.
A gathering in the school’s Media Center recognized Bauzon, a major and army biochemist, who received word that he was being called to active duty. He left to report to Fort Hood in Kileen, Texas, on Friday. He said an Army official told him that he’d be “deployed without a doubt,” but to where and for how long is still unknown.
“We’ll play it by ear,” Bauzon said. “Maybe I’ll get stationed in a laboratory here in the States and stay there, or maybe if this unit gets called to move overseas, that’s what we’ll do.”
The husband, father and educator’s affable disposition and willingness to make himself available has made him popular among students and teachers. John McLeod, Havelock’s Science Department chairman, helped organize the event, along with the student council, and said they couldn’t let the opportunity pass without recognizing Bauzon's commitment to service.
“Being a school, we’re busy, and it’s easy to let things slip without being recognized,” McLeod said. “It’s very important for students to see this because I don’t think they realize how many on the staff are veterans and the importance to our country and our freedom, that people are willing to make that sacrifice.”
As Bauzon, his wife, and two sons walked into the Media Center, they were greeted with the Presentation of Colors by Havelock’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and the playing of the National Anthem performed by the school’s marching band. The magnitude of the event surprised Bauzon, who thought it was going to be a small gathering with the science department.
“It was very touching and very unexpected,” he said.
McLeod gave a short speech, presented Bauzon with some gifts on behalf of the science department, and Bauzon concluded the ceremony by speaking to the students. He ended on a high note by encouraging them to become the adults they always dreamed of and that he was proud of them. He finished by telling them, “You’ve made me a better man, a better father, and a better husband.”
As Bauzon’s speech ended, teary-eyed students lined up to give Bauzon a hug, wish him luck, and say goodbye. Some students waited more than 20 minutes to wish Bauzon well, and some of the students never even had him as a teacher.
“One girl came up and said, ‘You don’t know me, you never had me in class, but you said something to me in the hallway, and at that time I needed to hear that’. It was very humbling,” he said. "If I tried to put it into words, it would lose its eloquence, and my heart is heavy and humbled because of that type of love.”
Bauzon embodies kindness and humility, which he attributes to the students helping him grow into.
“I lost hope, and a lot of things being in the adult world,” he said. “But, coming here and watching them (students), being how they are, they gave that back to me. Teaching is the one thing I never thought I’d do when I graduated from Havelock High School, and it’s been the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s not just rewarding, it’s brought humanity back to me.”
Heading off into the unknown isn’t entirely new to Bauzon. During the invasion of Iraq, he deployed with the 455th Chemical Brigade, and that deployment holds historical significance beyond just being the first forces into the country.
“The 455th Chemical Brigade is the only chemical brigade that’s been deployed in war, so that’s kind of a claim to fame,” he said. “Also, there’s a camp in Iraq called Camp Slayer. It’s named after our unit because we were the ‘Dragon Slayers,’ the dragon being any chemical weapon that would deter the U.S. from moving forward.”
The experience of that first deployment was fast-paced and ever-changing. Having been in that high-speed environment helps take some of the unknown out of embarking on another deployment, giving Bauzon a chance to see the bigger picture and allowing him to appreciate each day.
“You go through your first deployment, you don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “You learn to appreciate, no matter where I go overseas, I’m there, and I always keep in mind why I’m there. It’s a part of history, so you appreciate the land, the culture, the opportunity, and you realize when you’re there, you represent everything good about the United States.”
As Bauzon prepares to set out on this new journey in his military career, he’ll be joining a unit he’s never met, and is setting foot on a base to which he’s never been. A former student, though, is helping make the transition as seamless as possible. Stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, the former student knows soldiers at Fort Hood, and has gotten Bauzon in contact with them to help him get settled. Kindness shown is the kindness received.
Bauzon smiled at the full-circle-nature of things and said, “now, it’s the student helping the teacher.”