By Eric S. Kohl, PE, Practice Leader
One week from writing this was the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Any time there is a significant anniversary, it serves as a great time to reflect. Just as others might remember exactly where they were when we landed on the moon or Kennedy was assassinated, those in my generation remember what we were doing when the World Trade Center buildings were struck. I personally was driving to the coast to conduct a couple of antenna inventories on towers we were completing analyses on. I had a CD in the player, so I was not listening to the radio. I received a call on my cell phone from a client, Lynn, sometime around 10AM. She asked if I had heard that the World Trade Center had been struck by airplanes and that it appeared to be a terrorist attack. She knew that I was a National Guard soldier and asked if I would be affected by this in terms of my military status. Lynn was very stunned that morning, but she tried to keep the mood light and asked if this would affect the turn around time for a couple of VoiceStream projects we had underway. I assured her it wouldn’t. I immediately turned on the news and got caught up on what had happened and as Lynn had suspected, I indeed was affected and the National Guard would be changed forever in the ensuing wars that were to follow.
National Guard Bureau announced that nearly 800,000 National Guard soldiers have deployed in support of the numerous operations following September 11 ,and add to that, about half as many Reservists. There are well over one million citizen soldiers that work in companies such as KCI and live in neighborhoods across the nation. This creates many second and third order effects that have direct impacts on most of our nation. I personally have a trifecta in an Operation Noble Eagle deployment (security duty at the National Security Agency in Maryland), Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). In each of these cases, I had to put my life on hold and serve our nation at war. My job was easy, but what wasn’t as easy, was my co-workers and supervisors at KCI having to fill in and do my work that I left behind. KCI is one of the most military friendly organizations that I have seen and as an officer (currently Colonel), I have seen many and can affirm that KCI ranks near the very top. Federal law requires that a company has to maintain a deployed soldier’s position until they return, but this can take many forms and not always in the best interest of the soldier.
Most companies, KCI included, have to hire temporary employees to backfill the absent soldier and all companies have to develop a means to fulfill the duties of the employee which leads to sacrifices made by many others within the organization. These sacrifices often go unnoticed and without rewards. I can’t thank enough all the folks in the Raleigh and Tampa offices who supported me when I was away for the extra effort they put forth to keep the Wireless section as one of the nation’s best. When I returned I often had to arm wrestle the current project manager to get my client’s back. Each time was a challenge to get synchronized with the current project flows and develop the rhythm the clients had come to expect. During this re-acclimation period, it was my co-workers and supervisors that patiently allowed this transition to occur. Many other returning veterans didn’t have this support and their transition to civilian life was much more difficult. Once again, it reminds me of the great people we have throughout our company, for me personally in the Southeast offices. I am so thankful they were here to maintain the high standards throughout my leave of absence and for their incredible support upon my return. In the second deployment our office moved and they all pitched in and moved all my stuff into the new office. For those who don’t know me, I have a lot of stuff!
My three deployments began with the first one in 2003, the second in 2005, and the third in 2009. I joke with people that I missed all of my kids first grade school years based on the timing (I have three kids). KCI was a tremendous support to them through each of the deployments, but the most challenging one was the first one, when Hollie, my wife, was caring for three young children. Folks at KCI, from local to HR in Hunt Valley at the time, constantly reached out to her and made sure she was OK and that everything was still working OK. KCI has many excellent benefits for reservists and one of those is a matching salary, so that if you earn less in the armed forces, they will make up the difference. This was a tremendous help as I was a young Captain at the time.
As we reflect on the 15th anniversary, the operational tempo of the military does not appear to be slowing much. As a Colonel, I don’t anticipate that I will be called to duty again, but there are many others in KCI that are serving in either the National Guard or Reserves in all branches of service (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard). I have known several in my office that have been deployed during my 19 years at KCI and I have seen the unwavering support first hand for them. KCI is a fantastic company and as the motto states, “the most incredible thing we’ve engineered is our team”, that team proudly supports our military, pulling together when duty calls to keep the home fires burning and support the military member and their family.
Thanks to everyone who supported me, my family, other military members and their families during our military absences to keep the nation safe. It is not possible to serve overseas if there are problems at home, either in our work or home.