Leadership from the Kansas and Missouri National Guard met with civilian employers of their soldiers during an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve event at the Kansas National Guard Armory in Kansas City, Kansas, April 13.
ESGR is an all-volunteer organization that acts as a liaison between soldiers in the National Guard and Reserve and their civilian employers. The group organized the event as part of ongoing efforts to recognize and thank civilian employers who value and employ military service members.
"We basically smooth things out so that there are no issues for the soldier and they can do both their civilian job and their military job," said retired Lt. Col. Dave White, employer outreach representative volunteer.
Maj. Gen. Victor Braden, commanding general of the 35th Infantry Division, has made working closely with ESGR a top readiness priority as the division prepares to go to the Levant and the Persian Gulf next month. That mission, which will support the national security goals of the United States and promote stability and security by maintaining readiness, will take Kansas and Missouri members of the division overseas and away from their civilian jobs for nine months.
Braden told the employers that the experiences soldiers gained from their civilian employment is an important asset to the National Guard.
"I had a staff sergeant who had a PhD,” said Braden. “I had captains who were school principles. I had privates who had extensive experience as plumbers and carpenters. Having soldiers with that breadth of knowledge and experience is an advantage unique to reserve component units."
Although civilian-soldiers are an asset for the units, there are often some challenges associated with maintaining that civilian-military balance, both for the soldiers and for the employers.
"How many of you have gone on leave for a vacation for two weeks? When you come back, things might have changed, even in two weeks," said Braden. "And so, when you are gone for a year, a lot of things can be different. Sometimes there are policy changes or personnel changes or the dynamics change. It can take a while to adjust."
Shawn Reynolds, deputy chief of police with the Olathe Police Department, said his organization currently has three members deployed with a fourth preparing to deploy in May. Reynolds said it can sometimes be difficult because those soldiers are counted on as part of the organization's workforce.
"In the service industry...there is kind of a unique bond," said Reynolds. "Regardless of whichever uniform you are wearing, service is one of the first things in mind. We recognize the sacrifices that you all (soldiers) make when you are deployed and, internally, we make some sacrifices ourselves.
"Absolutely, there are challenges when you have folks that you are counting on for your work force who get deployed," said Reynolds. "You know, I think it is just something that employers have to adapt to. For the past 10 or 15 years, we have been involved in extended combat operations in one place or another. It is an important assignment, and we have to figure out ways to make that work. So that's what we do."
To reduce the stresses associated with transitioning from civilian employment to deployments and back again, Braden said it is essential for employers to stay engaged with their soldiers. Just knowing they have a job to return to lessens the burdens on soldiers while they are gone.
"These soldiers will be gone for a year," said Braden. "The last thing you want to have to worry about when you are deployed is what your next job is going to be."
Braden suggested three strategies that employers with deploying soldiers can use to maintain communication during periods of extended soldier absence:
Ask for your soldier's address and write to them. "Writing on a piece of paper is a lost art" said Braden. "There is just something about a letter that makes it more personal."
As a second option, even an occasional email will let soldiers know their employer is still thinking about them.
Engage in social media by taking advantage of platforms like the 35th Infantry Division Facebook and Twitter pages. These outlets will help employers get updates about what the unit is doing. Stay connected with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. ESGR can help address employer-employee issues before they become larger problems.
Employers of military service members can request ESGR representatives to come talk to their organizations or give briefings to management teams.
White also emphasized it is essential that civilian employers familiarize themselves with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, the federal law that establishes rights and responsibilities for uniformed Service members and their civilian employers.
"Make sure your HR (human resources), your personnel people are familiar with the law as it applies to reservists and guardsmen," said White. "They are the best employees you are ever going to get. They are providing a defense for your country, and that requires them to be away sometimes. You should do your best to support them, because they are supporting your country."
There are also strategies that soldiers can use to let their employers know they appreciate their support. If soldiers feel their employers have done an exceptional job supporting their military service, they can nominate them for one of four ESGR awards to recognize their efforts.
Soldiers and employers of soldiers can contact an ESGR representative for more information about employer briefings, soldier and employee rights and responsibilities, and employer award nominations.
"We are looking forward to working with ESGR as we continue to build on this innovative organization that we have," said Braden.