December 1, 2001
Sept. 11 changed everything. Just ask Kisha Donald or David Leiva. They are at their Tulane desks every day in payroll and publications, but every day they wonder when or if their call will come. They aren't just Tulanians. They are sergeants in the Air Force and Army Reserve with years of military experience. And they are on alert.
They and the other reservists who work at Tulane could be called up for military duty at any moment. At least one Health Sciences Center staff member and reservist has already been activated and left his office family behind. A temporary employee is trying to fill in during his absence. It is a time of anticipation, of resolve, of restlessness for them all.
"In the event we deploy, we have 72 hours to prepare and ship out," said Donald, senior payroll clerk at the Health Sciences Center and staff sergeant with 12 years in the Air Force Reserve. "I have some uneasiness, as most people would have, but when I signed up I expected there was a possibility war would break out. I have a lot of confidence in the decisions our government is making. This is important for our freedom."
Leiva has been in the Louisiana Army National Guard nine years, since he was 17 years old. "You know there is a chance to be activated, but Sept. 11 changed everything for most reservists. We no longer ask why or what's the reason--it's very apparent now. The hardest part is the feeling of having to sit and wait," said Leiva, project assistant in the publications office.
The university's leadership also finds itself in a difficult position in these times strongly supporting its employees who are in the reserves, and at the same time needing to support the departments who will miss the services of that reservist employee, if the government calls.
"We need to be very appreciative and respectful of the choice these employees have made," said Yvette Jones, senior vice president for planning and administration. "It has to be stressful, being on call like this. And if we do have people called up, we need to find ways to support their families. I'm not sure how we do that, but we need a broader support network in these trying times. At the same time, Tulane has to figure out ways to get the work done while those employees are gone," she added.
"It is not clear just how many employees called to military duty are on the Tulane work force, but federal law requires that jobs of reservists must remain open when they return," said Andy Heck, vice president of human resources. "This is something that all organizations want to support--supporting our employees and protecting their jobs."
His organization also is ready to help departments find temporary workers if reservists leave for duty. These times, however, can be traumatic, and Tulane's employee assistance program is a resource that can provide counseling services for both health and personal issues to employees and their families.
The services of Optum Care 24 are confidential and available 24 hours a day by calling 800-250-6179. It offers an audio health information library as well as a Web site, www.healthforums.com (employees must use registration code 8002506179 when prompted on the Web site).
"There is a lot of stress in the workplace today," Heck said. "It is hard for some people to focus. We want to be as responsive as we can."
Answering the government's call to action is all too familiar to Mike Jester, director of facilities management and a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. Jester was called up in 1990 for Desert Shield, leaving his Tulane job for six weeks of active duty. He worked with the Military Traffic Management Command in Texas as equipment was loaded that went to the Middle East.
After 28 years of active and reserve duty, Jester won't be seeing action this time around but his heart is with his military family. "It feels strange to watch from the sidelines," he said. "You get a feeling in your stomach that says, 'Hey, I should be doing something.'"
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