ESGR Gives Texas-Sized Support to Reserve, Guard Members, Employers
By Shadi May
Special to American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, July 28, 2005 A viable Guard and Reserve force - a critical weapon in the struggle against violent extremism - depends on having viable employer support, according to Gary Walston, newly appointed program specialist for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in Texas.
Walston, a retired member of the Air National Guard himself, understands the conflicts that can arise over citizen-soldiers' and -airmen's military duty. "Problems could range from issues as simple as being able to take time off work to attend military training to facing unemployment as a result of a long deployment obligation," he said.
To help prevent those problems and held iron them out when they arise, Walston and 4,500 other volunteer executives, senior government representatives, educators and military personnel serving on 55 ESGR committees nationwide serve as a vital link between employers and their reserve-component employees.
With help from ESGR's national headquarters resources in Arlington, Va., the volunteers conduct a wide range of programs to provide employer support for Guardsmen and Reservists. ESGR ombudsmen are trained volunteers who provide information, counseling and informal mediation of issues relating to compliance with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act to resolve employer conflicts.
"The Army is our biggest ombudsmen customer right now, with so many Army Guard and Army Reservists deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan," said Walston. "Many of our Army troops are being redeployed back to Texas, so it is important to have a solid support system in Texas. We resolve about 90 percent of issues given to ombudsmen in Texas, and only 2 percent are handed to the Department of Labor for resolution."
"We couldn't do without them," said John McKinny, director for the veteran employment training service at the Department of Labor office in Austin, Texas. "They intercede with many employers that we don't ever come in contact with because there are more of the ESGR volunteers than DoL employees. They are able to talk and mediate with more employers."
ESGR has 32 trained ombudsmen in Texas alone, while the Department of Labor has five employees dedicated in veterans' employment affairs in the state.
"We encourage both the military and employers go through ESGR first because at that level, it is to the advantage of both parties," said McKinny. "Once you get the Department of Labor involved, it becomes a formal process and to some maybe less 'friendly.' We are the investigators for the law - not for anyone else."
With recent deployments, servicemembers find themselves, upon return, in challenging employment situations, as every company has to replace its reservists gone for a year or more. "These situations have been reduced as a result of our efforts," said Walston. "Our goal in ESGR is to reduce the number of those leaving the military because of employer problems. If we can cut down that number by even 1 percent, it will save the Army millions of dollars in retention efforts."
While ombudsmen services are among ESGR's popular benefits, the agency uses its employer outreach programs to improve and maintain ties with employers.
"Briefings with the Boss" provides an informal forum in which local employers, unit commanders, ESGR members and community leaders meet to network and discuss issues that may arise from employee participation in the National Guard and Reserve. ESGR also offers a variety of recognition programs to employers, from Patriot Award and Pro Patria Award to Freedom Awards, the agency's most prestigious awards, which are presented annually by the secretary of defense.
"We give these awards to those employers who go above and beyond the requirements of the law such as supplemental pay and family support programs," said Walston. San Antonio-based USAA is among this year's Freedom Award winners, Walston said, for "its outstanding support of its military employees."
The awards program is not the only incentive ESGR offers the employers. "Bosslift" offers them firsthand look at what their employees do while on military duty. It transports employers and supervisors to military facilities, usually selected based on their National Guard and Reserve mission, where they observe their employees in action and get a scope of what they are doing to support the nation's defense.
"The program and its free services are here for both employers and military employees," said Walston. "We are here for both our customers. I encourage the employers to call us and learn about our services and training in human resources programs. I also ask that the Reservists and Guard members check out our Web site."
Founded in 1972, ESGR promotes free education, consultation, and if necessary, mediation for employers of Guard and reserves employees. Its goal is to support America's employers who share their employees with the nation to ensure U.S. national security.
(Shadi May is assigned to the Public Information Office at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.)