Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Road to Arizona

Each Christmas over the past four years has found me residing in a different state.

Christmas 2004: I was living in Missouri and finishing out a nearly eleven-year-run with the Missouri Division of Family Services, later renamed the Missouri Children’s Division. I joined the Division in April of 1994 as a Children’s Services Worker. My main duties included conducting child abuse investigations and working with children in foster care.

After being with that state agency just a few years, I was selected to attend the University of Missouri on a Title 4-E Scholarship where I obtained a Master’s in Social Work. In return for accepting a wonderful 2-year education, with pay and benefits, I had to promise to work for the state an additional four years. That wasn’t a problem to me because I loved my job and intended to keep doing it forever.

I completed the graduate program and returned to work at the Division. There I was promptly promoted to the position of Social Work Specialist where I handled “special” cases in seven counties throughout southwest Missouri. Fortunately, I loved that job as well, and things were good. I made many great friends in my travels and was able to do a lot of positive work for the children and families of that corner of Missouri.

My love affair with state employment ended after I became the Circuit Director over two of those seven counties. I had quite a lot of unhappy experience as a school administrator, and somehow I had forgotten how truly miserable life could be for the boss. But, even with that background I managed to maintain a cheerful attitude for several months until my boss was replaced by someone who was not known for her people skills.

During my last, very unhappy, year with the Missouri Children’s Division I was able to complete my social work licensure and finish my payback time to the state for the scholarship. It was time to move on, and I was surprised at how readily employable I was as a newly licensed clinical social worker. I was soon able to line up a position as a social work therapist with the U.S. Army at Ft. Leavenworth. As I was preparing to move at the end of December, 2004, the Great Tsunami hit Indonesia and George Bush was busy shuffling cabinet members and writing his 2nd inaugural address.

Christmas 2005: I was just completing my year at Ft. Leavenworth and preparing to move to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, within the next couple of days. My pay as a new therapist had been more that I made as an administrator in Missouri, and it suddenly increased again by 17% in November of 2005 to counteract the flight of social workers into the private sector. Unfortunately for me, the raise was funded by a deletion of some positions, including mine at Ft. Leavenworth. My contracting agency came to the rescue and found a placement for me at Ft. Campbell.

Leavenworth had been a great place to work, so much better than my previous position. Our caseloads at Leavenworth were small (which is the main reason that my position was deleted), and it was an excellent place to learn clinical skills as well as the operation of the Army’s Family Advocacy Program. Our mission was to work with victims and perpetrators of family violence, something for which my background with the Missouri Children’s Division had prepared me well.

Leavenworth was also good from a family perspective. I was able to get back to the Ozarks to check on my Dad and my little farm, Rock’s Roost, every other weekend, and I was able to see my son Tim, who lived just down the road in Topeka, on a fairly regular basis. Up until that time it had been several years since I was able to reside in the vicinity of any of my children. It was poor Tim who had to help me pack up my apartment and drive the U-Haul to Kentucky.

Christmas 2006: I was well rooted in Kentucky by the holiday season of 2006, having already been there for nearly a year. Ft. Campbell is home of the 101st Airborne Division, most of whose members were fighting in Iraq at the time I arrived. The majority of my duties there involved working with family members who were left at the base during the deployment, and then helping with family reintegration as the soldiers returned. My most emotional experiences working at Ft. Campbell centered on meeting returning troops as their planes arrived at the base airfield – the bands, the speeches, the joyous family reunions! Those memories will be with me forever.

The first couple of years that I worked with the military were as a civilian contractor. The pay was great, but contracted employees receive less time off than federal employees and have no retirement system other than a 401-K plan. I applied for several federal social worker positions, but wasn’t experiencing much luck in that department. Then in July of this year I found an Air Force opening at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix. I wasn’t overly anxious to move to the desert, but my daughter and new grandson were living there, so I threw my name into the hat. Much to my surprise, I was hired through a telephone interview and was on station at Luke on October 1st. Now, at long last, I was an official federal employee.

My oldest son, Nick, flew to Kentucky and helped me pack and move to Arizona. He and his brother both say that their sister, Molly, has to help move Dad next time!

Christmas 2007: I am at Luke preparing to start a new year. I like my job and have wonderful co-workers (as was the case at Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Campbell), and I hope that I will be able to drop anchor here and stay for several years. It is also fun getting to know my little grandson and watch him grow.

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