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St. Jude resource group supports efforts of veterans, active duty personnel and families

By Mike O'Kelly

Reservists Curtis Johnson, Facilities Operations and Maintenance, and Dawn Byers, ARC

Reservists Curtis Johnson, Facilities Operations and Maintenance, and Dawn Byers, ARC, discuss the Military Support Resource Group. This photo was taken prior to the pandemic.

Veterans are an integral part of the workforce at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Representing all branches of the armed forces, veterans and active duty personnel are clinicians, researchers, administrators and support staff. Understanding the military was an important part of many employees’ backgrounds, St. Jude created the Military Support Resource Group in 2010.

As the group celebrates its 10th anniversary this Veterans Day, its influence and support continues to grow among the St. Jude military community. The group meets quarterly and includes active duty military, reservists, veterans and employees who have immediate family members in the military.

Rachelle Hart of St. Jude Human Resources helped create the group as a way for employee veterans and active duty service members to connect and provide support.

“The idea of the Military Support Resource Group was to provide additional recognition and support beyond what we already do for those in the military,” said Hart, who spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserves. “By minimizing stressors outside of work, we help employees focus on their work.”

The group hosts events, provides family-member assistance, recognizes and celebrates achievements within the group, and organizes calls with employees and family members of those who are deployed. The group also supports veterans in the Memphis area.

“I am always humbled by what the Military Support Resource Group can pull together in a short period of time to support our brothers and sisters in service,” said Racquel Collins, PhD, assistant dean of the St. Jude Graduate School and a U.S. Air Force veteran. “We have sent care packages stocked with goodies and reminders of home to our deployed colleagues, provided Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to our veterans, and given a homeless veteran and her two children a present-packed Christmas they will never forget.

“There is nothing more honorable than serving your country, but there can be loneliness and isolation in service. The Military Support Resource Group’s members knows this all too well and make sure we provide a little bit of joy where we can.”

Dawn Byers, who works as a support lab supervisor in the hospital’s ARC, served 13 years in the U.S. Army and still serves in the Army Reserves. Byers lauded St. Jude for the support they provided when she returned from deployment to Iraq in 2010.

“When we’re called to serve, our lives and relationships with family are put on hold,” Byers said. “That’s tough to deal with, but the efforts of the Military Support Resource Group prepare military personnel for separation and reintegration when we return.”

Curtis Johnson, an HVAC refrigeration mechanic in Facilities Operations and Maintenance, has experienced the generosity and support of the group’s members firsthand. While serving a yearlong tour of duty in Kuwait with the National Guard, Johnson received a care package in the summer of 2011 from his colleagues. The 63-pound package included food and personal-care items, some St. Jude updates and a notebook filled with letters of support from his coworkers.

“When I opened the box, it was like Christmas in the summertime,” Johnson said.

He and his colleagues with military backgrounds are honored each year in a rolling scroll on the hospital’s intranet page. The tribute displays a photo of each employee in military dress and lists their branch of service along with the number of years they served.

Veterans are quick to share their stories with coworkers about how their military experience prepared them for their work at St. Jude. Those thoughts include such words as discipline, accountability, respect and caring for others—a worthy combination of experience that translates to the hospital’s goal of advancing medicine and research.

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