One employer eases a vet's deployment and reintegration to civilian lifeby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
A week from Monday, Minnesota Army National Guard Sgt. Lou Jacobson will head back to civilian work after more than two years of deployment in the war in Iraq. Jacobson is a machinist for a Monticello-based company that makes medical instruments and jet engine components. Along with some 2,600 other members of the Minnesota Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team who came home this summer Jacobson faces challenges in returning to a job he hasn't done for a long time. But he's optimistic that fitting back in at work will be a smooth transition due, in part, to the efforts made by his employer and co-workers while he was away.
Monticello, Minn. — A tall and long wooden fence in the backyard of Lou and Karen Jacobson's St. Cloud home stands as a reminder that while Lou was in Iraq escorting military convoys and patrolling towns, people back in Minnesota were helping to take care of his family.
More than a dozen of Jacobson's co-workers and bosses spent a weekend rebuilding the blown down fence in his backyard. They also planted a tree and put in a sandbox. The fence is just one of many things that were done to help Jacobson's wife and two young sons, while he was deployed.
Jacobson's employer, Monticello-based Ultra Machining Company, know as UMC, even won Department of Defense recognition for what it did to help.
Management of the small company made up the difference between Jacobson's full-time machinist's salary and his military pay. They flew him home more than once so he could spend leave with his family. They've been paying his wages since he got back last summer. They advised him to stay away from work for three months to catch-up with his family and the rest of his civilian life.
"(These were) things that we did as we would do for our own family member," says UMC's vice president, Randy Hatcher. "And that's how, culturally, we look at our employees. That's one of our family. And the things we did are not that unusual. They're just things you would do for a family member."
"We're excited obviously after two years of being without Sgt. Jacobson to have him back in our workforce," says Hatcher.
Hatcher says for him, and he's convinced for many of his employees, Veterans Day has taken on a new meaning. They have a deeper and more personal understanding of what it's like for someone to leave home for war.
"Personally, that has changed my perspective on veterans and what they do for us and I think each employee has a renewed since of what those people are doing for us and that's kind of the fun," says Hatcher.
Jacobson says he doesn't talk much about Iraq. He's trying to put it behind him. Asked in what way's he's changed, he says doesn't really know yet. He's been spending most of his time at home. He says he'll have a better sense of it all once things get back to normal.
"I'm nervous to go back to work," admits Jacobson.
But he says going back to work is something he's looking forward to doing.
"I think everybody coming back has nerves, being nervous about going back to work," says Jacobson. "I'm just happy that I get to go back to the company I work for. Certain soldiers get back and they got laid off because of bad times. They're coming back and don't have jobs."
Jacobson knows technology has changed his workplace in the two year's he's been away. Forget the complications of precision high-tech machining and just look, he says, at what's happened with cell phones over the past couple of years.
"Technology is always going to be changing. We came back and now they got Blue Tooth," Jacobson says. "I didn't even know what the heck that was. A lot of things change."
Jacobson says he's also noticed traffic is heavier along I-94. He'll have to allow more time for his commute from St. Cloud to Monticello.
Jacobson says he and his employer have plans to ease him back into his job. His work schedule and duties will be flexible to accommodate his reintegration. Jacobson says having all of the support during the deployment made going to Iraq and coming back home more manageable.
"I would just like to thank everybody that helped the family out and if you're helping somebody else out, thank you," says Jacobson. "It means a lot to the soldier. I know there is a lot more people over there and a lot more people are going to need help."
- Morning Edition, 11/12/2007, 7:24 a.m.