Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve: Two-Way Street
By Maj. Donna Miles, USAR
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 9, 1997 Getting ready to conduct your two-week annual training? Putting in for a military school you need to get promoted? Or preparing to return to your civilian job after a long-term deployment?
Serving two bosses, one military and one civilian, can be a tough balancing act, as many National Guardsmen and reservists know. So when duty calls them away from their civilian jobs, many reservists find comfort in knowing the law -- specifically, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act -- is on their side.
"It says your employer will preserve your job with all promotions and benefits," said retired Army Col. Herb Lockett. "When you return, it will be like you've never been gone."
Lockett is among more than 4,300 volunteers, many of them business leaders with military backgrounds, who help get that word out to guardsmen and reservists, as well as their civilian employers. Lockett is an ombudsman for the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, serving on the Alabama state committee. His job is to help prevent, and if necessary, to resolve, employer problems over military service.
"A lot of an ombudsman's job boils down to education," said Army Col. Jim Chalaire, director of the ombudsman program.
Much of that effort is directed at reservists themselves. During the reserve deployments for Bosnia, for example, volunteer ombudsmen set up stations at the three primary reserve mobilization sites: Fort Dix, N.J.; Fort Benning, Ga.; and Fort Bragg, N.C. So as reservist component personnel preparing to deploy worked their way through a variety of stations, getting shots they needed, exchanging their red reserve identification cards for green, active duty ones, they also got briefings about their re-employment rights.
The ombudsmen were again on-site when the reservists and guardsmen redeployed, this time offering a toll-free telephone number for them to call if they ran into employer problems when returning to their civilian jobs.
But Chalaire said the ombudsmen's education effort is also directed at civilian employers. "It goes beyond simply educating employers about their responsibilities under the law," he said.
"Back during the Cold War, the country had a large standing military and the reserves played a much smaller role than they do today. But now there's a much greater reliance on the Guard and Reserve, and that has a big impact on civilian employers. So I think we owe it to civilian employers to explain that change."
There's little question that the reserve components are spending more time on active duty than in the past. Some 267,000 were mobilized for Operation Desert Storm. Thousands more served in support of operations in Somalia and Haiti. And about 20,000 have served in, or in support of, the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.
More missions often means more training requirements, and frequently, more time away from civilian jobs.
"This increased use of the reserve components is a greater burden on reservists and their families," said Chalaire. "But it's a greater burden on employers, too."
He said that's why, even if the law is on the side of reservists, it's in everybody's best interest to work together and resolve conflicts before they start.
Chalaire said military commanders and reserve component personnel carry part of the responsibility for establishing good employer-employee relations.
Take, for example, the small-town Texas police chief who had just three patrolmen on his force. Two of them were members of the same Texas National Guard unit and were scheduled to attend their two-week annual training at the same time. The police chief was up in arms until an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve ombudsman arranged with the unit commander to have one of the patrolmen serve an alternate annual training period.
"It's not always possible, but what we do is try to accommodate employers where we can and when we can," Chalaire said. "Employers may still not be 100 percent satisfied with the outcome, but at least they can say they've been dealt with fairly."
Chalaire said building bridges between reserve component personnel and their employers is sometimes as easy as giving bosses a heads-up about upcoming military duty. "Don't walk into your boss on a Friday and drop papers on his desk and say you're not going to be in for the next two weeks," he said. "Giving an employer a little advance notice can go a long way in building employer support."
And employer support ultimately plays a big part in the readiness of the reserve components, according to Deborah Lee, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. "If we begin to lose our best people because they perceive that they have too many pressures in their civilian jobs as a result of reserve service, then it hurts our recruiting and retention, and it hurts our readiness," she said.
"We see employer support as a two-way street, with everyone carrying some of the responsibilities.," Lee continued. "And if we do it right, it can be a win-win situation."