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Aftershock: Navy diver certain her next assignment will be in Mideast

Friday, October 12, 2001

By Christopher Snowbeck, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When her students at Sewickley Academy said goodbye to Lori Yost, a Navy reservist called up for active duty, they tried to give her useful gifts.

A second-grade girl brought her a cookie and told her: "You'll need this. You'll be hungry."

A boy advised her to eat a big meal before going.

Gym students at Sewickley Academy took a break from playing field hockey to display a photograph of teacher Lori Yost, a Navy reservist called up for active duty. Yost, 39, a diver, now is working at Pearl Harbor. From left are middle school students Babrielle Ilocki, Erica Burke, Jordan Welch (holding the picture), and Katie Deering. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Aftershock photo journals

A third student drew a tiny American flag that Yost, a gym teacher, carries as a lucky charm.

Yost, a 39-year-old diver from Aleppo, has reported to Pearl Harbor, but she expects to be sent to the Mideast after returning from Hawaii Nov. 15.

"This is a short [assignment] and it's relatively safe," she said. "I thought I'd save the thoughts and prayers for next time."

Those thoughts are driving Yost to get in shape to handle any assignment. Her exercise routine on most days includes 90 minutes on a bike, 40 minutes swimming and two to six miles running. All this on top of a 45-hour work week.

To mentally prepare, Yost is thinking about where she might be sent. Guessing that her experience two months ago diving off Bahrain could be useful, Yost is remembering how the Persian Gulf's 98-degree waters can feel like a sauna. Sometimes, divers must wear ice vests.

Since the airstrikes this week, security at the Hawaii military base has increased along with the anxiety level. Even so, Yost's voice seldom suggests any foreboding. She's gung-ho and being called up simply presents another challenge.

"People get addicted to many different things and I'm addicted to adventure," she said from Hawaii. "I sort of think that's my drug -- that challenge, that ability to overcome and conquer fear."

Yost graduated from Slippery Rock University in 1985 and has worked as a gym teacher at Sewickley Academy pretty much ever since. Having had a "love-at-first-dive" experience with a scuba class in college, Yost was assigned to a diving and salvage unit after joining the reserves in 1987. Now, she is commanding officer of a 25-person unit based in Cleveland.

Along the way, she has attended airborne school, air assault school and combat swimmer school, but diving remains Yost's primary duty.

Every year, Yost spends up to 17 days on assignment with the reserves; her unit drills one weekend a month. The trip to Pearl Harbor is the first extended disruption of her teaching since she was called up for two months in April 1990. A substitute teacher already working at Sewickley Academy has taken over Yost's 22 physical education classes.

She left behind parents in Central Pennsylvania and her dog Gracie, but she took along a few mementos, including an audio tape of a first-grader serenading her with "God Bless America."

She thinks her involvement in the Navy presents a worthwhile message to the youngsters in her school. "I've done a lot of things that they say females shouldn't do. ... If students look at me and say, 'Ms. Yost knows how to rappel from the auditorium and she dives for the Navy,' if that sparks interest in one child to do something they thought they couldn't do, to reach higher, then that's what it's all for.

"I get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever I think about the terrorism. I'm angry that something like this can happen in America. But I'm proud to be in the military right now, because I think I'm going to be able to make a difference."

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