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Committee Redoubles Efforts as Guard/Reserve Deployments Squeeze Employers

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2000 – Unprecedented Guard and Reserve deployments over the last decade -- and no let up in sight -- are worrying civilian employers concerned about the impact of that situation on their workplaces, according to a recent DoD study.

Reserve-component deployments have increased 1,300 percent since the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989. "The old Cold War commitment for reservists, which called for duty on one weekend a month and two weeks each summer, is largely a thing of the past," Charles L. Cragin, principal deputy assistant secretary for reserve affairs, said recently. "Many of today's Guard and Reserve personnel are often serving far in excess of this."

Employee absences and work scheduling have become hot topics for civilian employers of Guardsmen and Reservists, said Bryan E. Sharratt, executive director of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in Arlington, Va.

"Employers are experiencing a much more severe inconvenience and, in some cases, quite a financial burden," Sharratt said, pointing to the results of a DoD reserve employer study released Sept. 1. To meet this challenge, he said, NCESGR will develop better-focused communications conduits and systems targeted to surface employers' concerns and provide solutions.

The committee was created in 1972 to foster good relations between reserve component members and their civilian employers. Sharratt said his agency routinely communicates with employers to raise the level of awareness of what the Guard and Reserve do, the missions they are performing and the importance of those missions to national security.

Now, Sharratt wants "to see if we can fix the system so it works better for employers" even if Guard and Reserve personnel are away from their civilian workplaces for extended periods of time.

In the study, 93 percent of employers said they favor their employees' participation in the Guard and Reserve. However, many of those same employers complained their employees spend too much time away from work on deployments and other military duties. Nearly half the employers surveyed said absences of more than 14 days caused workplace problems; 80 percent complained of effects when absences exceeded 30 days.

Those statistics concern Sharratt, Cragin and other personnel and readiness officials as DoD increases the breadth and depth of today's reserve component missions. For instance, Cragin, said, the Texas Army National Guard 49th Armored Division has been in Bosnia since March on a nine-month peacekeeping tour and will be followed in rotation by Virginia's 29th Infantry Division and Pennsylvania's 28th Infantry Division.

Closer to home, Cragin noted, Guard and Reserve ground troops and aircrews were deployed for more than a month this summer to support fire-fighting efforts in the western U.S. forests.

"NCESGR plans to address employers' issues through improving communications between the employers and their employees in the Guard and Reserve," Sharratt said. Over the years the committee has conducted Guard and Reserve awareness campaigns through the Ad Council and interactive programs with employers such as ombudsman services and briefings. Another successful program, he said, has been Bosslifts, where employers visit the Guard and Reserve units of their employees and get a taste of military life, he said.

Since the draft ended in 1973, Sharratt noted, employer and public familiarity with the military has declined sharply. This fact has made committee programs more important to reserve component recruiting and retention, he said.

The committee is developing a Guard and Reserve media plan for employers and hopes to establish an information database for employers, he said. Bosslifts will continue, though as popular and successful as they've been they only reach about 1 percent of all employers of Guardsmen and Reservists, he said.

Most of all, NCESGR wants to do a better job of listening to employers, Sharratt said. "Through a database we can do a much easier job of surveying, and we can find out what employers would like us to do," he said. "Already, employers have told us several things they'd particularly like to see."

Employers, especially larger companies, want to know how many of their employees are in the Guard and Reserve so they can cover extended absences, he said. Second, employers want as much advance notification of callups as possible.

"Most employers tell us they can almost eliminate the real burden of replacing people temporarily if they have enough advance notice," Sharratt said. Likewise, employers say they'd like to know when their employees will return, he said.

Federal law allows Guardsmen and Reservists to be absent from the workplace to attend military training or to participate in other authorized missions without peril to their jobs, Sharratt said. Some employers have complained that employees in the Guard or Reserve constantly volunteer for missions, thus burdening the company and causing continual replacement scrambles.

"The law covers both voluntary and involuntary duty. There are times when we've asked for volunteers for certain missions that could be covered by a lot of different people," Sharratt said. Employers want consideration given so the same person isn't continually picked when a mission can be done by a number of candidates, he said.

"This is done in other countries. It is something we are looking at as well," he added.

Sharratt said the committee plans to meet with DoD officials and employers in the future to solicit additional feedback. "Employers are the ones who can tell us how to make this work for them," he said. "The real key is building that communication."

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