Five questions for a dual-career employee
Name: Ron Sykora
Position at ISU: Veterans certification official, office of records and registration
Time at ISU: One year, minus seven months of deployment
Military rank: Lieutenant colonel, Army Reserve
Time in the military: 28 years
One career is usually enough for most faculty and staff to juggle. But Ron Sykora and other military reservists on campus have dedicated themselves to two careers -- one at Iowa State and the other to the United States military. As Veterans Day approaches and Americans honor the sacrifices of those who defend our country, Sykora discusses why -- for him -- two careers are better than one.
You have two careers: one here at Iowa State and one with the Army Reserve. Describe what you do for both.
Here at Iowa State, I'm the lead veterans certification official for all chapters of the GI Bill. We serve veterans and veterans' dependents who are using the GI Bill to help fund their education. We identify who those students are and help facilitate the process to make sure they're on track to make the best use of the GI Bill.
I’ve served in the military since 1989, and I'm currently a lieutenant colonel with the 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) U.S. Army Reserve, based at Fort Des Moines. My unit is responsible for command and control of sustainment units, which provide the life support systems for troops -- supplies, maintenance and equipment -- within a theater.
You've been with Iowa State just over a year, but your career here had an unusual start.
My job interview was in the morning, and I was on an airplane to Germany that afternoon for 45 days of military duty. I was told that if I'm the right person, the university will wait. While I was in Germany, they offered me the position. When I came back, I was here two months when I got word that the Army was going to activate me to lead a planning cell for a mission in Europe, called Saber Guardian 2017. Two months after that, I was gone. The majority of my time was spent in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, with a few weeks of planning in Germany. I was gone for seven months. I left in mid-February and just came back to work at Iowa State on Oct. 2.
What were the specifics of the mission?
Saber Guardian was the largest exercise in Europe this year for U.S. allied and partner forces. There were 21 nations and 40,000 troops involved. The exercise was to show our allied partners and partner nations that we will work with them and work as a deterrent against aggression in Eastern Europe by outside entities. It was partially to show those outside entities the capabilities we have to combine together to provide security.
How did Iowa State handle your absence and your return?
The university hired a temporary employee to handle my workload for about six months. When I came back, the registrar's office welcomed me back with open arms, right back to the same desk, same computer, same everything. Even some of the Post-its I had on the computer were still there. In some cases, it was like I never left. But there were changes to the GI Bill that happened while I was gone, so I have to figure out where we're at and what it means. I was lucky that I wasn't gone for a very long time so I could keep track of what was going on. Iowa State kept my email account active, so if somebody sent me an issue, I could forward it to somebody else who could handle it while I was gone.
You've spent 28 years in various arms of the U.S. military – Navy Reserve, Army National Guard and now the Army Reserve. Why do you continue to serve?
I joined the service because there was this feeling that I owed something to this country. You can wrap it in patriotism, but it was more than that. This country has provided so many opportunities for myself and others, I felt a need to give something back. And there were good education benefits afforded to me. I was able to use those benefits to work toward my degree. There's a sense of belonging in the military. There's a continued sense of being actively involved in an organization whose whole purpose is to defend our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy. I look at it like I get to keep doing this, not that I have to.