Guard, Reserve Support Agency Celebrates 40th Year
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 22, 2012 Officials here celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, an agency considered to be the linchpin of the nation’s sustainment of an all-volunteer military.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Jessica L. Wright and James Rebholz, ESGR national chair, spoke of the continuing importance of nurturing the partnership between employers and citizen warriors through ESGR and its legion of volunteers.
“This organization is made up of a very small cadre of full-time people and they work very, very hard,” Wright said. “[But] we wouldn’t be an organization that is so robust, so well-known, that works so well for our men and women without the long, hard work of our very large cadre of volunteers,” Wright said.
ESGR’s mission and strategy is to promote cooperation and understanding between reserve component members and their civilian employers to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee's military commitment.
Throughout U.S. history, Guard and reserve members have put their civilian jobs on hold to serve in combat, provide disaster relief at home and abroad and provide backfill support to units with deployed personnel.
In 1972, anticipating the end of both the Vietnam War and the draft, the Defense Department established ESGR to foster a culture of respect, cooperation and understanding between National Guard members, reservists, and their employers. Then-President Richard M. Nixon reached out to industry and worked with retired General Motors chairman James M. Roche to develop the organization.
“It was the first hybrid organization of military-civilian cooperation,” Rebholz said, describing its non-employer members as the “weekend warriors [who] had the training drills and annual tours.”
Over the years, the rules morphed, perhaps most dramatically, in 1994, when the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act was signed into law, Rebholz said.
“That became the cornerstone of our mission -- to educate the employers and the reserve and Guardsmen of their rights and responsibilities under the law,” he explained.
In 1996, Defense Secretary William J. Perry created the first Freedom Award, the highest honor the Defense Department can award a civilian employer for outstanding support to the Guard and reserve.
ESGR’s 4,800 volunteers range from business executives, senior government representatives, educators and military personnel, who serve on state committees located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam-CNMI, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.