Posted on Sun, May. 27, 2007
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"BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU IN LIFE. ULTIMATELY, GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE. THE SUN CAME UP THIS MORNING. THE WORLD WILL NOT END." KEVIN HOLT
A job lost and perspective gained
Gastonia man was fired a week after notifying his firm he had been deployed.
Kevin Holt of Gastonia bears little likeness to the chiseled warriors depicted in Army posters.
He's 41, heavyset and has a habit of pushing his eyeglasses to the bridge of his nose.
He's a citizen-soldier.
The former sailor enlisted in the National Guard in July 2004 as a way to supplement his income and heed a call to service.
Last summer, between supervising a chow line at Camp Speicher outside Tikrit, Iraq, and running food convoys, Holt sat at dusty computer keyboards, hunting and pecking the answers to his online college course. He hoped a business degree would help him land a job.
Thermotron Industries, based in Holland, Mich., fired Holt in April 2005,
near the height of the Bush administration's call-up of National Guard members and just a week after Holt told the company he was being deployed to Iraq.
Holt serviced Thermotron's environmental test chambers, which expose electronics and other devices to temperature extremes. He covered a patch of the Southeast for the privately held, mid-sized company, making about $54,000 a year.
Holt says Thermotron accused him of trying to bill the company for Yellow Pages advertising he had ordered for his side repair business.
BellSouth had mailed the bill to Thermotron by mistake, an error Holt said his boss had resolved more than eight months before.
The married father of two worked seven years for Thermotron, which has a growing defense-contract business.
The termination was an about-face for a company that two months before firing him had given Holt another glowing annual evaluation.
Fellow soldiers in the National Guard's 505th Engineer Battalion said they thought the timing of the firing looked fishy. They told him about the law designed to protect civilian jobs of part-time soldiers called to active duty.
Holt tried to get his job back.
He filed complaints with state and federal labor departments.
He thought his case was a slam-dunk.
Thermotron sent letters in its defense.
It produced copies of the Yellow Pages bill it said proved Holt tried to deceive the company.
The company denied that a supervisor had told Holt the billing mistake had been resolved.
Holt provided documents but couldn't produce anything showing Thermotron fired him because his military service conflicted with the company's need for a repairman in the Southeast.
Channels prove fruitless
Like thousands of service members,
Holt's journey through government channels proved futile."They wanted documents," Holt says of labor officials. "But I was getting ready to go to war."
By November 2005, with Holt in Iraq, state and federal labor officials had sent letters to his house.
The agencies ruled Thermotron fired him "for cause."
Richard Castillo, the U.S. Labor Department's assistant director in Michigan, said Holt could request the agency refer the case to the Justice Department for possible litigation.
But Castillo would recommend "no further action be taken."
Thermotron's vice president of service operations, noted agencies ruled in the company's favor.
"Holt's allegations are unfounded and untrue," Lampen told the Observer in a phone call.
He refused to answer further questions, then hung up.
A call to a job
Above Kevin Holt's backyard workshop, a massive portrait of Jesus stands watch.
"Bad things will happen to you in life," Holt says.
"Ultimately, God is still on the throne.
The sun came up this morning. The world will not end."
Last October Holt returned home to hugs, red-white-and-blue bunting around the mailbox ... and a job interview.
Espec North America had heard Holt was no longer with competitor Thermotron.
After e-mailing Holt in Iraq, the company agreed to talk with him when he got back.
In November, he became Espec's newest employee.
Going from civilian to soldier, from Gastonia to Tikrit and back, from unemployed to employed in a little over a year has imbued Holt with perspective.
"I grew up a lot during the experience," he says. "I never lost a job before. Never experienced unemployment. I always feared facing that.
But the calamity I thought was going to happen, didn't happen."
He enrolled in school again, this time to work on a master's in theology through an online program.
"I feel called," Holt says, "to serve as an Army chaplain."
As a Guard member, Holt says he's willing to return to Iraq or wherever his country needs him.
He also abides by the gospel of Luke, the passage that admonishes
"Love your enemies," and "pray for those who mistreat you."