Troop deployments hit home for U

Libby George

The battle rages on in Iraq, and each deployment uproots more lives throughout Minnesota and in the University community.

On Sunday morning the 134th Signal Battalion deployed from Inver Grove Heights and more than two dozen more Minnesotans – including two University employees – put their lives on hold to heed the call to arms.

Alyssa Peterson, a network support analyst for the University’s Networking and Telecommunicat-ions Services – which provides voicemail and other technical support for the University – was called to active duty for the first time after eight and a half years in the National Guard.

Although another deployed soldier in her battalion works for the same department, Peterson said the University has been helpful with her leave.

They’re being great about it. The University’s policy is, I have my job when I get back,” Peterson said.

The policy allows those who take active military leave to claim up to 15 days of paid leave with benefits and up to five years of leave without pay after that.

According to the Registrar’s Office and University Human Resources, at least 73 students and nine faculty and staff have requested military leaves of absence, but human resources director Nan Wilhelmson said that number does not include many requests still being processed.

Peterson said the hard part has been getting her family used to the idea of her absence.

“Many tears have been shed,” she said. “It’s hard.”

Her boss’ job, however, might be even harder. In addition to losing two workers in this deployment, Networking and Telecommunication Services manager Victoria Sheehan will lose another employee to active duty in June.

“I’m losing a third of my workforce,” Sheehan said. She added that the situation is complicated by the current wage and hiring freezes keeping her from hiring any new employees.

She said the department is not yet sure how it will cover the missing employees.

“We don’t know for sure yet. We’ve talked about shifting people around,” Sheehan said.

In a send-off ceremony held Saturday – with attendees including Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, his wife Mary and Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton – Sheehan received an award commending her support of employees called to active duty.

She said her support was to be expected, and the soldiers will be missed in the department beyond the missing work.

“We’re kind of a close unit, so we’re nervous, and scared and proud,” she said.

False alarm

Others at the University have not been so lucky.

Second-year student Jeremiah Peterson was counting on being called to active duty after his battalion in the National Guard was put on high alert but Peterson has yet to hear anything.

“They told us we were leaving for sure, so I barely went to class,” Peterson said. “When the time came, they didn’t even call us.”

He said the false alarm caused him to neglect his schoolwork. Assuming there was an 80 percent chance of being called up, Peterson said, he put only about 20 percent of his effort into studying.

“A couple of my friends got screwed and dropped out,” he said. “I’m going to try to stay in. Maybe they’ll still call us.”

Although there are more than 1,000 Minnesota reservists on active duty, there is no way of knowing how many more will be called up, Minnesota National Guard 2nd Lt. Anna Lewicki said.

“It just depends on how things go,” she said. “The Department of Defense’s goal is to have as few troops called up as possible.”

Although military authorities – including Maj. Gen. Eugene Andreotti of the Minnesota National Guard’s Department of Military Affairs – have told the public to prepare for a long battle, Lewicki would not comment on more call-ups before they happen.

“It wasn’t planned to be a two-week war,” Andreotti told military families Saturday.

Coming home, catching up

University faculty familiar with military activation said they worry more about the psychological catch-up of deployed students and faculty than the academic work.

Steve Carnes, program director of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, said a colleague called to active duty in the first Gulf War took nearly three months to transition back to normal work.

“His biggest challenge was no longer being in the military and to return to the mindset of academia,” Carnes said. “It was just a totally different world for him.”

For students, Carnes also said he was more concerned with the mental transition.

“Academically the University does everything in its power to make sure that (the return) is not disruptive,” he said. “The disruption is more psychological and emotional.”

Libby George covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]