Soldier Prepares For School, Not War

"I had been telling my friends, well, you know, I don't know if anybody's going to come to my reception today," Tracy Parks said. "I hope so."

"Welcome Tracy Parks back to the campus and to her regular life," UT-Tyler President Rodney Mabry, announced, as a crowd of dozens of co-workers cheered.

Army Staff Sergeant Parks was called to active duty March of last year, temporarily leaving her position at UT-Tyler as the only distance education specialist.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom, Parks escorted convoys and patrolled the highways for more than a year.

"It's nice to represent people like you and all Americans in our fight against terrorism," Parks said. "So I'm very happy to be back though."

"We were horrified, that, first of all, that she had to be put in danger, in harm's way," Dr. Rita Dobbs, assistant professor in the technology department, said. "We were very concerned about her safety."

Dobbs taught Parks during graduate school. Now, they work hand in hand to design courses to be presented on campus TV.

"When Tracy told us she would be leaving, we didn't know what we would do because, obviously, she filled a very great need in our department," Dobbs said. "And she also works with other departments across campus."

While away from the university, Parks was helping another school, in Iraq. Her unit built furniture and doors for an elementary school. They also delivered supplies.

"Overall, my experience was positive because I could see, on a day-to-day basis, the good that we were doing," Parks said.

Having been away from all the technology Parks is used to, she says she has gained a greater sense of appreciation for the simple things in life.

"I try to live my life and my days a little bit fuller now," Parks said.

Parks was discharged from active duty last month. She remains in the army reserves and says she would be proud to serve her country again whenever she's needed.

Julie Tam, reporting.