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AZTEC — Eric Stovall stopped for a moment and looked at the white board his students' Veterans Day presentation.

He scanned the taped-up pictures spanning from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan, admiring his students' work before excitedly resuming his conversation.

"I try and motivate them with education," he said, his hands gesturing as if giving a lesson. "I know every teacher does that on this campus. As teachers, we are tasked and challenged with making kids better. But they're going to challenge you, too."

Stovall teaches science and history to sixth through eighth grade special education students at Koogler Middle School, and works in the JROTC middle school program.

He served in the Marine Corps from 1986 to 1992 and is a veteran of the Gulf War.

While his military background helped lay the foundation for his teaching approach, he owes his passion for the profession to his mother, Anne Stovall.

"Mom always said be firm but fair," he said. "Kids want challenges, they want discipline, even though they won't admit it."

Although his mother passed away in 2006, her legacy continues to influence his life.

"She was my hero," he said.

Stovall was born in Carmel, Calif., and moved to Las Cruces as a child. His mother was a teacher and his father, Jack Stovall, 80, served in the Army during the Korean War.

Eric Stovall's eyes moved along the board, scanning for a special photograph.

He stopped and plucked one off, a smiling young man in uniform.


His son, Trevor Eric Stovall, 20, is a specialist in the Army, marking three generations of service in his family.

"I'm proud of that," he said. "I'm really proud of my son. He's thinking of making it a career."

He looked back at the board and smiled.

Ashley D. Polanco

Bosnia and

Afgahnistan wars

FARMINGTON Ashley D. Polanco sat at one of the many tables in the San Juan College Library strewn with papers, books and empty coffee cups.

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The cavernous room was filled with students studying or taking refuge from the pouring rain outside.

Fourteen years ago, however, she was part of a conflict many have forgotten - the Bosnian war.

"It was my defining tour," she said. "I hadn't been anywhere outside of New Mexico except for Texas. I didn't know anything about life."

Polanco grew up in Aztec and graduated from Aztec High School in 1998. Her grandfather, William Perry, was the city's first police chief, she said.

After highs school, she served in the Army from 1998-2005.

Serving in the Balkans showed her that living in the United States is a privilege, she said.

She recalled people in the towns living without running water, and buildings honeycombed with bullet holes.

"Our soldiers, people think that we didn't belong there, but there's an oath we take to protect those foreign and domestic," she said.

Her service in Bosnia showed her that she was helping to protect those who needed protection the most, she said.

Her service in Afghanistan, however, was altogether different.

"Afghanistan is just scary," she said. "Take your worst nightmare and multiply it by 100."

She was discharged from service after her mother fell ill and could no longer watch after her children, she said. She came home just before her company deployed to Iraq. Three weeks later, her former Humvee was out driving when it was blown up by enemy forces.

"I think it's a godsend that I came home," she said.

Today, Polanco is a world away from war.

She is studying linguistics and earning an associate's degree through San Juan College's Paralegal Program.

She plans to attend law school at the University of New Mexico and practice medical and criminal law on the Navajo Nation, inspired in part by her Chickasaw ancestry.

"I don't know very much about by background, but growing up here, I love it," she said.