Jose Maldonado, the circulation manager at Evanston Public Library, has worked at the library since 2013, but that’s not his only job. Mr. Maldonado is also a part of the army reserves, and returned in April from a year of active duty at Fort Hood in Texas.
He has long been involved with the military. In high school as he planned for his future, and with his parents already paying for the college tuition of his three older siblings, Mr. Maldonado decided to join the army. It was 1996, his senior year, and he didn’t want to add to his parents’ burden.
“I thought I might as well have college paid for and do cool stuff, because it was cool for a young man, at the time, to be like ‘I’m going to blow things up and shoot things.’ It’s like being a boy as a grown up,” Mr. Maldonado said.
From 1996 to 1999, Mr. Maldonado served in active duty, a job that left a lasting impact on him. He cites his three years of service as the most difficult time in his life, both physically and mentally. He decided he didn’t want to rely on that kind of work to provide for his family, and so he enrolled at the University of Illinois at Chicago, majoring in political science.
Having decided to pursue a career beyond the army, Mr. Maldonado focused on school -- until September 11, 2001.
“When 9/11 happened, I already had no illusions of what the military was like, but I was triggered by the events and I felt a desire to go back in and do what I had to do,” Mr. Maldonado said. “I was in college at the time and I felt I needed to participate in some fashion, and the reserves allowed me to do my civilian world thing, like my schooling and future job, and still be able to help in some way.”
Since then, Mr. Maldonado has continued his service with the reserves. This commitment requires that he participate in training one weekend every month at Fort Sheridan in Illinois. He also commits 2 to 4 weeks a year to training and missions. However, this past year was different, as Mr. Maldonado and his entire unit were called to active duty. For the last year, everyone in his unit has served at Fort Hood in Texas, working as military police and training the units that were being deployed.
Mr. Maldonado was required to relocate for a year and said the Evanston Public Library and the City of Evanston have been “amazing.” He explained how the City will provide the difference between what the military pays him and the salary from his position at the Library, ensuring he doesn't suffer any loss of wages while he’s gone. In addition, Mr. Maldonado’s job at the library is protected until he returns, so he can serve without fear of losing his position.
He said that the Library has been equally supportive of his service to the country. When he found out he was being called to active duty, he spoke to the Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons, who was immediately supportive and helped him feel secure about his job. With fellow Library employees’ support, Mr. Maldonado said he has received encouragement that not all veterans do.
“It makes you feel good to come back to an employer that really cares, because some folks don’t, and there can be a lot of bitterness from civilian employers who don't understand and are frustrated that they can't hire someone else to replace us,” Mr. Maldonado said. “Here [at the library], they really care about their veterans and employees . . . I love to work here because of that.”
While the reserves and library may seem worlds apart, Mr. Maldonado has figured out how to balance the two -- although he admits it requires he make major adjustments to his persona. “Some techniques can be very abrasive, which is important to do in the military when lives are at stake – there’s no beating around the bush, you have to be cut-throat honest and address issues of discipline,” Maldonado said. “I learned early on in my career that I can’t bring some of those techniques to the library setting because you can ruffle feathers. There are no lives at stake, so you have to be kinder and softer.”
These aren't the only adjustments Mr. Maldonado has to make when returning from active duty. Having been gone for a year, Mr. Maldonado said he has to be careful and considerate, and recognize the changes that were made to accommodate his absence. With an approximate 30 percent turnover in staff since he left, and others taking over his duties while he was gone, Mr. Maldonado said the transition back into his role can at times be a difficult process.
However, this is a balancing act Mr. Maldonado says he won’t walk away from. While he continues his work in the reserves, he is also in the process of getting his Master’s degree in Library & Information Science, something the library is helping to pay for.
He said that as he looks to retire from the reserves, in the next 2 to 3 years, to focus on his career and family, the influence of his time with the military will remain an important part of his life. “When I joined the reserves, I really fell in love with it because it was different. It wasn't the high-tempo, high-stress life that I had to live [with] as an active duty member, and I love that it allowed me to have two lives,” Mr. Maldonado said. “The drive to do the military is this higher calling . . . I feel like I’m doing something that is meaningful to me and my life.”