First Suzette Boler had to say goodbye to her husband. Then she had to say goodbye to her job.
According to an Associated Press report released Wednesday evening, Boler was sacked from her position as a receptionist at the Caledonia, Mich.-based Benefit Management Administrators on Oct. 17, after taking an unpaid leave of absence in order to bid farewell to Jerry, her husband of 22 years, as his National Guard unit shipped out to Iraq.
Boler, 40, describes herself as "a reliable employee with good work habits," who earned $9 an hour "answering telephones, entering claims information and greeting visitors and clients." In the month leading up to her husband's deployment, Boler admits she was "anxious and distracted," but -- as a story in the Grand Rapids Press notes -- her work was apparently not so impaired as to prevent BMA from sending her a note on Sept. 6, "congratulating her for a year of service with the firm" and thanking her for "knowledgeable contributions" to the company. Boler claims to have requested -- and been granted -- an unpaid week off work to prepare for her husband's departure and to travel to Indianapolis, where his company was scheduled to leave for Fort Dix en route to Iraq.
Prior to leaving, Boler met with her supervisors and assured them that she would return to work no later than Tuesday, Oct. 18. But when she returned to her home on Monday, drained from the emotionally exhausting long weekend, she received an angry phone call from BMA, informing her she'd be getting a pink slip -- not sympathy. "It was a shock," Boler told AP reporters. "I was hurt. I felt abandoned by people I thought cared for me." But Clark Galloway, vice president of operations for BMA, defends the company's decision, claiming he felt they had already given Boler "sufficient time to get back to work."
A middle-class mother and grandmother who has lived most of her life in Indiana and Michigan and previously spent 10 years as a supervisor for a truck stop restaurant after working her way up as a waitress, Suzette Boler is in many ways typical of the Americans who are bearing the brunt of the Iraq war. As sociologist Robert Cushing outlines in his ongoing study for the Austin American-Statesman, families sending their husbands and sons and daughters to fight on the front lines are "39 percent more likely than the nation as a whole to live in counties with fewer than 100,000 people" and "to have grown up in old economy towns or rural regions."
Even without the loss of her job, Boler would likely have faced financial hardships as a result of her husband's deployment. The Christian Science Monitor noted earlier this fall that U.S. government studies report half of all reservists and National Guard members suffer a significant loss of income after embarking on active duty -- a figure that in most cases runs upward of $4,000 per year.
This week, as Suzette Boler faced her first week away from her husband and without a paycheck, America marked its 2,000th soldier killed in Iraq. In the weeks and months to come, more soldiers will die -- and more women like Boler will still have bills to pay. Either way, grim accounting lies ahead.