Employees Feel War's Impact
By Jon Reidel Article published January 25, 2005
Roger Bombardier, Bryan Lumsden and Carol Caldwell-Edmonds are among a dozen or so UVM employees directly affected by America’s military involvement in the Middle East. They are examples of staff members who are about to be deployed, currently serving, or who have loved ones overseas.
Although the Vermont National Guard and the university don’t give out names of employees on military leave, human resources estimates that about a dozen employees are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East, or will be in the near future. Many of these individuals and their family members have relied on the support of each other to help them deal with their respective situations.
“I think everyone copes with it in different ways,” says Caldwell-Edmonds, an information technology professional in CIT Client Services and an Army veteran whose husband, Major Gary Edmonds, is stationed near Kuwait City. “My husband has been in the regular army for 20 years and is often gone for most of the year, so we’ve done this for a long time. But I don’t know how these people feel who are going off to war for the first time. It’s difficult. We all try to support each other as best we can.”
Bombardier, an information technology professional in CIT client services, has been a member of the Army National Guard for more than eight years and expects to be called up sometime this year. He says the waiting can be difficult, as is the prospect of leaving his new wife.
“People at UVM have heard rumors that I might be going away and have been incredibly supportive,” says Bombardier, a member of 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry Division. “I have an uncle who tells me stories about how he was treated when he came back from Vietnam. But times have changed. People have expressed opposition to the war in Iraq, but have been very supportive of the troops. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”
Some employees are among the 600 soldiers called up in November from the guard's 86th Brigade, the largest call-up of guard members since World War II. Raymond Doner, a supervisor senior mechanic at the HVAC/P shop who has been at the university for more than nine years, and George Patenaude, a medical maintenance electrician and an eight-year staffer, will be gone for 18 months.
In addition to Doner and Patenaude, the physical plant department has endured the yearlong service of Lumsden, who is with the 86th Field Artillery Battalion. Lumsden was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” for Valor in Iraq on Oct. 12, 2004, for heroic or meritorious achievement of service with operations against an opposing armed force. The bronze “V” identifies the award as resulting for an act of combat or valor.
Chris Hunter, a UVM police officer, has been deployed for 18 months. The 2004 graduate of the Vermont Police Academy serves with the 86th brigade and has remained in contact via email with fellow UVM employees. Clifford Adams, a housekeeper with the department of building services, has also been recently deployed.
A number of university medical faculty and staff have also served in the Middle East or will be in the near future. In one example, Dr. Gino Trevisani, assistant professor of surgery, served for nine months in Afghanistan as commander of a 20-person U.S. Army Reserves unit performing hundreds of surgeries to wounded soldiers and civilians along the war-torn Pakistani border of Afghanistan. Rich Weinberg, a nurse anesthetist and clinical instructor, just returned from Iraq.
Staying in touch
The common denominator for all the employees is the difficulty of separation from family and home.
“Some people use their religious faith as their ‘support group,’ going to service every week and bible study once a week,” writes Gary Edmonds, the spouse of UVM employee Caldwell-Edmonds in an e-mail from Kuwait City. “Other people join different types of groups like running clubs or sports teams (softball, flag football, etc). And then there are the people that use their job as their ‘support group.’ People read, play games, or watch movies. Whatever you can do to pass the time until you can get back home.”
Family members back home also use various strategies to cope with the separation. For Caldwell-Edmonds, the purchase of an iBook for Christmas has helped tremendously. The technology allows Carol and her children to see their “virtual dad” in Kuwait City on a computer at their kitchen table. “He can hear our whole morning routine. People are yelling and getting ready for school while Gary is saying hello from Kuwait City. This kind of connection is important for everyone.”
“With the time difference between Kuwait and Vermont, my wife, Carol, is just getting to work when I get home in the afternoon,” Edmonds writes. “Several days a week we spend a few minutes text messaging to keep in contact. On Sundays, I get home from work as Carol and the kids are making breakfast. They set up their iBook near the breakfast table and we talk. Sometimes the kids even set out a glass of milk and a pancake for me. It is a great way for us to stay in contact as a family because everyone can listen and talk.”