Planner Cui to join U.S. Army
Haines Borough planning and zoning technician Tracy Cui has joined the Army Reserves and will head to basic training in Missouri in mid-November.
After 12 weeks of basic training, Cui will complete eight weeks of job training. She estimated she will be gone from her borough job for five to six months.
“It was not a rash decision. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” Cui said in an interview Tuesday.
Cui, who is a Chinese citizen, said several factors contributed to her decision, including that joining the reserves would allow her to become a U.S. citizen. She also cited the potential to have future higher education paid for and the opportunity to develop new skills, as she will be working as a construction engineer.
“I’ve always wanted to be a soldier since I was a kid,” she said. “Before I made the decision, I talked to my supervisors and my parents and my friends, and they support it.”
Cui said she also sees her decision as benefitting the borough, since the municipality won’t have to go through the process and expense of getting her a “green card,” which could cost up to $10,000.
“It’s always a controversial topic. There have always been people against my green card sponsorship,” Cui said, adding that she understands why local taxpayers would be wary of how their money is being spent.
“It doesn’t cost them anything, and I can stay,” she added.
The borough hired Cui as the planning and zoning technician in 2012, spending $6,000 in attorney fees and processing to secure an H1-B visa, which allows Cui to work in the United States for three years.
Manager David Sosa in February 2015 publicly expressed his support for helping Cui obtain her green card. Sosa said Cui is competent, does her job well and enforces code fairly. He also praised her expertise, experience and education in her chosen field.
Sosa declined to comment on Cui’s “particular case,” and instead pointed to sections of borough code addressing leave policy for borough employees who are members of the U.S. military.
He did not respond to questions asking how Cui’s job duties would be fulfilled in her absence, or when he planned on informing the assembly or planning commission about the imminent five to six-month absence.
According to borough code, a “regular borough employee who is a member of a reserve component of the United States Armed Forces or the National Guard who is appointed to fill a regular full-time or part-time position shall be entitled to military leave of absence without pay to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States and shall be entitled to the reemployment benefits granted under Section 9 of the Universal Military Training and Service Act.”
Military leave beyond 16.5 days is unpaid, according to code.
Cui said she has been speaking with her supervisor, clerk Julie Cozzi, about how her job duties will be dealt with in her absence. It hasn’t been decided whether the borough will hire a temporary substitute, transfer her duties to an existing employee, or divide her duties among several existing employees, she said.
“No decisions have been made,” Cozzi said. “We are still looking at all options. This is no different than any other employee who might need an extended leave of absence for any number or reasons.”
One concern is Cui is the only person in the office who knows how to do GIS (geographic information system) mapping, which the borough uses in the creation of heli-ski maps, property tax maps and other critical projects.
Cui is joining the reserves through a specific avenue called the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) recruiting program, which according to the Army’s website allows legal non-citizens with in-demand skills to join the Army in exchange for expedited U.S. citizenship.
The Army is currently searching for licensed health care professionals and individuals who can speak more than one language. Cui qualified because she speaks fluent Chinese.
Once she completes basic training and job training, Cui must report to the Anchorage base two days every month for six years. She can be called up to active duty and deployed at any time during those six years, and for an additional two years thereafter, she said.
When asked if she was scared or concerned about that possibility, Cui said she wasn’t and that most important decisions involve taking some kind of risk. “I feel very excited, actually. I’m going to start my second career. It’s just so different from my current situation,” she said.