- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Paul Fancella, while proud of his duty in Afghanistan during the last year, is glad to be home and once again working as an educator in St. Mary’s public schools.
Fancella, 46, was serving as principal of Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School in October 2010 when his unit of the Maryland Army National Guard was called up for active duty. After training for two months he deployed to Afghanistan at the end of November last year.
Fancella, a lieutenant colonel, returned this October after nearly 11 months, he said. He is currently working as a principal on assignment and coordinating St. Mary’s public schools’ adult education program, which includes overseeing the GED program and coordination with the College of Southern Maryland, as well as overseeing the school system’s new online high school curriculum.
“It’s different. I haven’t worked with that age, that population group,” Fancella said recently.
Until now, he spent all of his school career working in elementary schools. He was principal at Park Hall Elementary School for several years, Green Holly Elementary for one year and most recently Dent. He is hoping to return as an elementary school principal when a position opens up.
“It is great to have Dr. Fancella back home again,” Charles Ridgell, a friend and colleague, said.
“I am not sure many people realize the sacrifices people like Dr. Fancella are making for this nation,” Ridgell, the director of student services for St. Mary’s public schools, said, “Military deployments present many challenges for their families and loved ones.”
Fancella has been in the Maryland Army National Guard for 29 years following active duty with the Navy for three years right out of high school.
He serves with the 29th infantry division of the Maryland Army National Guard. This was his second deployment with the National Guard; the first was to Kosovo in 2004.
In Afghanistan, Fancella worked to train Afghan police and soldiers to take over security in their own country.
“The overall mission of the security partnering was to train and mentor the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police,” Fancella said. “My job specifically was that of a liaison officer for the National Police Coordination Center and NATO Training Mission Afghanistan.”
He was stationed at the International Security Assistance Force Headquarters in Kabul and mostly stayed within the relatively safe area known as the “green zone.”
But even in the green zone, he said, he could often hear explosions and gunshots. He traveled a short distance to his work, wearing body armor and carrying a weapon every day. The 45 minutes or so on the road were always stressful, he said, especially knowing that those same routes often came under attack from insurgents.
“Fortunately, I did not see action, that’s always good to say,” Fancella said. “You want to feel relatively safe, but you keep your guard up.”
He worked with the senior leadership in the country’s ministry of interior as a mentor to help them create plans for the security transition.
“They want the Afghanistan forces to be able to take over security,” he said. “They’ve come a long way. We still got a lot of work to do.” The United States’ goal now is to have Afghanistan take over its own security control by the end of 2014.
“They have a saying, ‘shohna ba shohna.’ [That means] shoulder to shoulder,” Fancella said.
He said that most all of the Afghanistan people he encountered were welcoming to Americans. “Thy want to see their country advanced,” and know that America wants the same thing, he said.
When Osama bin Laden was caught and shot dead in May, “there was celebration,” he said.
He said his leadership skills from his time as a school principal did help with his job overseas. And, a week prior to deploying to Afghanistan, Fancella received his doctorate in administrative leadership for teaching and learning from Walden University.
He said he is glad to be home with his wife, Leslie, and his seven children, ranging in age from 13 to 21.
“It was difficult for all of us,” being away from families said. He was able to communicate daily with his own family through electronic media, but many overseas do not have that luxury, he said.
“He represents the best in two professions, one in service to our country and one in service to the students and families of St. Mary’s County public schools,” Ridgell said of his friend. “He is a great man for doing both.”