CAMP RIPLEY -- When the 145 members of the Minnesota Army National Guard's Company C, 142nd Engineer Battalion based at Camp Ripley left today for up to a year of active duty in Southwest Asia, they left behind family and friends, and their employers as well.
Employers are required by federal law to allow their employees involved in voluntary military service to leave their civilian jobs to serve their country and have their jobs waiting for them when they return.
Some employers not only answered their own call to duty, but have gone beyond what is required of them to make life easier for their employees.
When Dave Kamphenkel, owner of Custom Transfer, Inc., in Long Prairie, learned one of his employees, Jason Biel, was called last week to active duty with his Camp Ripley unit, he knew he had a problem.
On Jan. 20, Biel was driving a truck transporting magazines through Youngstown, Ohio, bound for Utica, N.Y., when he discovered he had to report for duty at 8 a.m. Jan. 22 at Camp Ripley.
For the past month, Kamphenkel said he made sure Biel only drove short distances within a five-state area because they knew the possibility existed that Biel's unit would be activated. But then the trip to New York came up and he took a chance and sent Biel.
"Sure shootin', I get him several states away and he gets called," said Kamphenkel with a laugh.
It took a lot of maneuvering, but by the next day Kamphenkel had arranged for Biel to get home. He paid for a plane ticket for Biel to catch a flight from Cleveland to Minneapolis. He was able to send two truckers together on a route heading east, stopping by Cleveland so one of the drivers could take over Biel's truck at the Cleveland airport and deliver the truck and its contents to New York on time.
By nearly 8 p.m. Jan. 21, Biel was home and able to report for duty the following day at Camp Ripley. He has been an employee of Custom Transfer, Inc., for eight months.
"It was the call of duty," said Kamphenkel. "We'd work out the logistics later. The biggest thing was to make sure he was back and ready to go."
Maj. Jeff Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said Kamphenkel's actions were exemplary in helping Biel get home to report for duty.
Some employers provide pay differentials for their employees on active duty, although that, too, is the exception. Johnson's job involves working with employers to help them better understand the law and their employees' military service responsibilities.
Clint Headley is the only licensed practical nurse at Northern Orthopedics in Brainerd. His co-workers threw him a going away party Saturday.
Karen Johnson, clinic manager, said the clinic will fill his position with part-time staff from St. Joseph's Medical Center until he returns, but that hasn't been their greatest concern since learning that Headley will leave for up to a year.
"The biggest impact is it put a face on the impending war," said Johnson. "To actually have someone here (being deployed), it hit home for me and every other employee. We're concerned about him and the impact on him."
St. Joseph's Medical Center has one employee being deployed today and two others who may be deployed soon, said Dale Benson, hospital personnel director.
Small businesses affected by the federal call-up of National Guard and Army Reserve members can receive help from the Small Business Development Center at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. The center offers training and counseling assistance to small businesses in management areas such as finance, marketing and operations so they can continue to operate profitably.
Counseling by qualified consultants is offered at no cost to the business owner. Training is available for a modest fee. One program offered is financial assistance to small businesses suffering economic injury because an owner or essential employee was called to active duty.
For more information, call CLC at 855-8142 or the U.S. Small Business Administration at 1-800-U ASK SBA.
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