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Like most Americans, Duane Morris & Heckscher partner Mark Chabal watched with horror as terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center towers and severely damaged the Pentagon on Sept. 11, killing thousands. Unlike most others, however, the Harrisburg, Pa.-based litigator was called to serve his country almost immediately after the first plane slammed into the North Tower. A captain in the Naval Reserve, Chabal serves as the Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer (NEPLO) for Pennsylvania. One NEPLO is assigned to each state, coordinating with military, federal, state and local authorities in case of natural disasters, terrorist attacks or any other kind of civil disaster. Usually Chabal and other NEPLOs are called into service in the wake of a hurricane or to assist with the planning of major events such as last year’s Republican National Convention, the Super Bowl or the Winter Olympics, scheduled for Salt Lake City. He couldn’t have dreamed up a scenario such as planes slamming into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but like countless others in the military, he was ready. “NEPLOs know they can be called on a moment’s notice,” Chabal said. “So I knew they might need my help, but I still haven’t been officially called up to active duty.” Chabal was immediately placed on standby when the first plane hit and was told later that night to report to a Navy facility in Norfolk, Va. He was scheduled to report there before the attack for a training assignment, but the focus of his stay shifted. He assisted Navy officials for the next four days in preparation for a coming tropical storm. The Naval Command Center was destroyed during the Pentagon attack, during which one of Chabal’s friends, a retired Navy captain working as a civilian, was killed. So he reported with a heavy heart to the Pentagon for a week of service, assisting with the coordination of rescue and consequence management for both sites. Like so many who have visited Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, Chabal said the damage couldn’t be fully conveyed on television. Chabel talked about the Pentagon wreckage. “It’s nothing like New York, of course, but it certainly was tough to see firsthand, especially when you combine it with thoughts of all the lives that were lost. “But when you’re in the military, you accept that kind of risk as part of the job. Yet, I think things like this strengthen the resolve of the military and the nation. So the terrorists didn’t really accomplish what they set out to accomplish.” After a week at the Pentagon, Chabal returned to Duane Morris’ Harrisburg office last Wednesday and almost immediately faced an all-day court conference, followed the next day by a lengthy arbitration session. Making such a sudden and drastic shift in gears back into the practice of law was not easy, but Chabal said his training as an aviator helped the transition. “You learn to compartmentalize and focus on what needs to be done,” Chabal said. “In a way, being at the Pentagon is therapeutic because I could help in some way. I know so many people who were frustrated [after the attacks] because they wanted to help but they couldn’t. But I was able to play my small part.” Duane Morris chairman Sheldon Bonovitz said if Chabal is called up to active duty, which is a possibility with military action looming in Afghanistan, the firm would continue to compensate Chabal as a partner working at the firm. “We don’t have a formal policy [for attorneys and staff that are called to active military duty], but why penalize someone for serving his or her country and assisting in the war effort?” Bonovitz said. “If I had 100 people getting called up, that would be one thing. But if it’s just a few or just Matt, there would be no change of status. It would be stressful enough for his family if he does get called up, so why make it worse for them.” Sean McDevitt, a partner in the labor and employment department of Pepper Hamilton, said clients are already starting to call him, asking what their obligations are in the wake of President Bush’s recent call-up of thousands of Reservists. The federal statute followed during Reservist call-ups is the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act (USERRA), which states in basic terms that individuals cannot be penalized when called to active duty. McDevitt said it protects Reservists in three main ways: 1. Reservists are entitled to the same benefits as any other employee on unpaid leave. 2. Employers must provide COBRA-like medical insurance for up to 18 months or the length of active duty — whichever is less. 3. Reservists are entitled to return to the position they would have attained had they not been called to active duty. “I don’t know if employers recognize this as a problem, because it has been 10 years since the Persian Gulf War,” McDevitt said. “But we’re trying to get the word out of what this particular statute requires and what an employer’s obligations are. Most larger employers have a policy in place; it’s just a matter of dusting them off and studying them.” Chabal, a Lewisburg, Pa., native, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1977 and earned his wings two years later after completing flight school. He spent seven years in active duty, logging 2,500 hours of flight time, but he never saw combat action. Instead, he mainly flew Cold War-era patrol missions in the P-3 Orion, a large antisubmarine aircraft. The classified missions, often reconnaissance operations, usually took place in Europe. In 1986, Chabal left active duty to attend Dickinson Law School. But he stayed in the Naval Reserve, keeping up on his flying at Willow Grove Air Base. Chabal eventually left Willow Grove and continued his reserve duties by putting in four years at the Pentagon, much of which was spent working for the chief of staff of naval operations. After law school and a two-year clerkship with the U.S. District judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, William W. Caldwell, Chabal started at Duane Morris in 1989, focusing his practice on commercial litigation. Despite his background, Chabal said, he decided not to focus his practice on aviation litigation. “Harrisburg is not a major metropolitan area, and you need to be in one to have a serious aviation practice,” Chabal said. With family, law practice and military responsibilities, Chabal said it could often present an impossible balancing act. “It certainly is a challenge,” Chabal said. “But I haven’t had any problems. Judges are understanding. Clients are understanding. But the potential is there to have to make a tough call.”

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