PEYTON, Colo. – Falcon School District 49 students and faculty gathered to unveil a scoreboard Aug. 13, mounted above the words “Some gave all.”
Students and faculty filled the indoor gym at Stetson Elementary School in Colorado Springs. Dozens of the school’s alumni joined them from nearby Skyview Middle School. They assembled to honor a former teacher, “Mr. A,” also known as “Coach A.”
Philip Ambard, father of five, died last year serving in Afghanistan. While assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy, he worked as a substitute teacher in District 49.
“Teacher, coach, husband, father, friend and hero,” said Frank Fowler, Stetson Elementary School principal, speaking from a podium. He was recalling the scoreboard dedication plaque posted in the hallway leading into the gym.
“This is who Maj. Philip Ambard of the United States Air Force was to us,” said Fowler. “In remembrance and dedication of what Phil stood for and the many lives he touched, we present this scoreboard in his honor. You will forever be in our hearts.”The Stetson Elementary School PTA and the Falcon Youth Football Club coordinated activities to raise the funds necessary for the symbolic scoreboard.
“I want to thank you for being my family,” said widow Linda Ambard. “You gave me a reason to smile and get up in in the mornings, and a reason to come to work. … You were the arms that wrapped around me and got me through a very hard time in my life.”
Philip Ambard frequently substituted for his wife when she worked as a physical education teacher at Stetson Elementary School. As an avid long distance runner, she routinely competed in marathons. When she needed time off, her husband often took over.
Brig. Gen. Dana Born, U.S. Air Force Academy dean of faculty, who regularly worked with Philip Ambard, described him as an intelligent, good-humored man who promised 110 percent effort. He enjoyed getting involved with child development and education.
“Maj. Ambard didn’t just work really, really hard,” said Born. “He had a big heart and he was very compassionate and considerate and warm hearted. Anyone who interacted with him felt better as a result of that interaction.
“If he were here at Stetson Elementary he would have tried his best every single day,” she said. “He would have not given up just because something was hard. He would have been excited, as much as he could, every single day in class.
“He would have been kind and considerate to others in the lunchroom. He would have helped someone who would have fallen on the playground. He would have been respectful to parents and teachers. He would have befriended the new kid at school.
“Give it your all,” said Born, imploring the students to try something new. “He would be so proud to know that his life inspired you to be the best that you can be. And every single one of you has a great talent, a great gift. Some, you know already and you work on to make even better. Some, you haven’t even discovered yet.
“Maj. Phil Ambard would be honored to know that you would be proud to call him a Stetson Elementary ‘Raider’ who gives it their all.”
As a military officer, Philip Ambard taught foreign languages to cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy, about 15 miles northeast of the elementary school. He knew about 10 languages, said Linda Ambard, who refers to her late husband as “a born mimic.”
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, he arrived in the United States as a fluent speaker of Spanish and French. He quickly acquired English in school, and later learned German, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Dari and others.
She says he hoped to improve his extensive portfolio of foreign languages, while serving a record amount of years in the U.S. military. He enlisted in the Air Force shortly after turning 18 years old, and succeeded at each evaluation for promotion.
As a master sergeant with 16 years of experience with communications equipment, he earned his second lieutenant commission. Philip Ambard, 44, had served 26 years when he volunteered for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, said Linda Ambard.
During the middle of the 2010-2011 school year, he deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan. On April 27, 2011, while working in the Afghanistan air force headquarters at the North Kabul International Airport, he died of injuries from small arms fire.
An Afghanistan air force officer, suspected of harboring personal issues compounded by alleged financial problems, had gunned down eight airmen and a civilian contractor, according to the results of an Air Force investigation published in January.
Linda Ambard spent the 2011-2012 school year teaching physical education at Ansbach Elementary School in Katterbach, Germany. This summer, she accepted a position as a youth center director at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.“Phil knew two words when he came to the United States,” she said. “School was very, very difficult for Phil, because he didn’t speak the language, so the first thing he did was find, by going after sports, a sense of community, a sense of team, a sense of family.
“I would encourage you to find that same family somewhere, whether it be in theater, or whether it be in sports, or whether it be – doing something you love. Find it.
“If you can find something, and Coach A would tell you the same thing … find something that brings a smile to your face.”