Agency works to support National Guard and Reserve members re-enter work force

06/28/2012 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:11 AM

When the Department of Defense began to anticipate the end of the Vietnam War and with it the draft, it established an agency to oversee a relationship that would be critical to our nation’s ability to maintain an all-volunteer military.

For the past 40 years, that agency – Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve – has labored to develop and promote a culture in which all American employers support and value the military service of their employees in the National Guard and Reserve.

The last decade of continuous combat and historic natural disasters has tested our reliance on Reserve component service members and their employers, revealing both groups’ willingness to make extraordinary sacrifices for the good of our country.

In 1972, one of the first programs launched by ESGR was the Statement of Support, a pledge employers sign affirming they will follow legal obligations to military employees and provide additional support when needed. The Statement of Support remains a symbol of strong commitment when signed by present-day employers, providing reassurance to military employees.

Guard and Reserve members’ anxiety over military service and deployments lessens knowing employers stand behind them and are committed to protecting their jobs even during the increased deployments of the last decade.

Another vital component of ESGR’s mission, the ombudsman program, has assisted Guard and Reserve Service members and employers since 1975. Throughout the U.S. and its territories, trained ombudsmen provide free information and neutral mediation to help resolve workplace issues.

The current federal law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, provides employment rights and responsibilities for Guard and Reserve Service members so they are not penalized professionally for their service to our country.

Yet, service members can suffer if their employers lack awareness of these rights and responsibilities.

In some cases, guardsmen and reservists return from deployment to a combat zone, only to find their time away cost them a pay raise, promotion or job. Today, Kansas ESGR has a cadre of 90 volunteers, with 10 ombudsmen, to assist guardsmen, reservists and employers across our state.

Most employers willingly support their military employees, and in many cases go above and beyond their legal responsibilities. In response, ESGR developed a robust wards program to recognize these employers.

Our nation could not meet its current national security demands without the Guard and Reserve, who in turn could not sustain their service without those who employ them.

Employers in Kansas are doing their part. Earlier this year, 33 Kansas guardsmen and reservists nominated their employers for the Department of Defense’s highest recognition for supportive employers — the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

In spite of strong employer support, too many Guard and Reserve members are still slipping through the cracks, falling into unemployment. As recently as 2011, the unemployment rate for the most junior members of the Guard and Reserve rose to 23 percent; imagine how these young heroes struggle when nearly a quarter of them are out of work. We owe them better.

Considering these men and women are dedicated leaders who perform under the most strenuous of circumstances, we also owe it to ourselves to keep them in the civilian workforce. In response, late last year ESGR partnered with the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program to support its employment program, Hero 2 Hired.

H2H helps match Guardsmen and Reservists looking for a job with employers committed to hiring a service member via the platform. While H2H is open to all military members, it serves as the Department of Defense’s primary program dedicated to addressing the unique employment needs of members of the Guard and Reserve, providing free services to service members and employers.

I encourage every employer to examine their employment policies, consider how they are supporting their military employees, and look for ways to hire and support Guard and Reserve members. Kansas ESGR stands ready to assist our state’s employers and service members in this endeavor.

As our nation recognized four decades ago, a strong all-volunteer military will forever rely on our employers’ support.

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