Veronica McCray, Director of Catawba Valley Medical Center (CVMC) Psychiatry Services was recognized with a Patriot Award from the North Carolina Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) during a presentation Friday, September 2, for her support of Buck Isenhour, a safety technician whom she supervises at the hospital.
“We are here today to say ‘thank you’,” said ESGR presenter, Kevin Ross, Captain (retired), United States Coast Guard. He explained that the ESGR program is a Department of Defense initiative that seeks to promote a culture in which all American employers support and value the military service of their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.
While Isenhour has served in the Army National Guard for four years, he has not always enjoyed the security and confidence that he says permeates the workplace culture at CVMC. “My excitement was short-lived after I made the life-changing decision to join the guard so I could help serve my country while also providing for my beautiful family,” said Isenhour.
At the time he was working as an assistant kitchen manager at a local employer. Shortly following a National Guard training drill, he detected a sense of being a burden to his boss. Soon after returning from that arduous training weekend, he learned his job had been eliminated. Although a federal law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), protects a civilian’s job while he or she is serving in the military, some employers find ways around being supportive of an employee like Isenhour whose military obligations might create scheduling challenges and discord among staff.
Today Isenhour beams as he recounts a much different story about what it’s like to work at CVMC. When he got an email with just 48 hours notice to report for a deployment, he was understandably apprehensive about having to tell his boss. Without having written orders or knowing how long he was going to be gone, he contacted McCray and she immediately encouraged him to take the rest of the day off to prepare for duty and make sure his family affairs were in order. As it transpired, his deployment was to assist in the aftermath of a hurricane in South Carolina for just a few weeks.
“Veronica went above and beyond the call of duty to stay in touch with me via text and email for whatever I needed,” said Isenhour. “She was very helpful in routing my emails with official orders to Human Resources so my transition back to work was fast and easy. At first I was worried that my departure might be perceived as a problem, but Veronica made me understand how important she views my service to the nation.”
McCray said, “I understand that Buck’s role at CVMC must come second at times. I am happy to provide all the flexibility I can when duty calls. His military service has to be a first priority; it is not a challenge, but a privilege and honor to have him in our department. Men and women like Buck make sacrifices for us every day, and they need our support.”
Isenhour says that he always feels like McCray has his back. “That’s why I nominated her for a Patriot Award. It’s a way for me to show her how much I appreciate her support and that of the entire hospital leadership too.”
Almost half of the United States military forces reside in the National Guard and Reserve. The men and women who serve in the Reserve Component are unique in that they also have civilian employers. “Support of America’s employers and the employees they share with the Nation ensures the viability of the all-volunteer force, and thus our national security,” said Captain Ross during the award presentation. “The Patriot Award reflects the ongoing efforts Veronica makes to support Buck as a citizen warrior. This is through a wide-range of measures including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for his family, and granting leaves of absence if needed.”
At the end of World War II, nearly 12% of the nation’s population had served in the armed forces. By the end of the Vietnam War that declined to 3%. Today, less than ½ of 1% of the population has served in the armed forces.
Next year, when Isenhour is deployed to Kuwait for a 12-month assignment, he will do so without fear of retribution for serving his country while simultaneously maintaining a career that helps provide access to quality healthcare for his hometown community too.