Last Tuesday, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors proclaimed this week (starting yesterday) to be the "Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve" week. Later that same Tuesday afternoon, the Prescott City Council also proclaimed it to be the "Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve" week.
So, what does that mean, and what is it that employers that hire Guard and Reservists do? We sat down with Butch Wise, the Executive Director of the Arizona Committee for Employer Support of hte Guard and Reserve (ESGR), to talk with him about the program.
"Basically what the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors did was they proclaimed Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve for week for next week," Wise said, "which happens to coincide with the Department of Defense Freedom Awards, which are being given in Washington, DC on the 17th of September. It's a big awards ceremony for 15 employers nationally that's given to the top employers in the United States. Of which one of those 15 is going to Tri-West Health Care Alliance, out of Phoenix, Arizona. So, we won one this year."
Wise looked pleased, as he explained, "It's only our 2nd one that's been won since the inception of the award which was in 1996, when it was started. So, what they [the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors and the Prescott City Council) did was they chose to do what the President typically does during that same week, and did a proclamation. They were the first ones in the State to do this. The City of Prescott's doing the same, and we're hoping to get some of the other cities and counties on board as well prior to the actual event this week."
"It says is that they support the Guard and Reserve, they follow the laws of the Uniform Services Employment Reemployment Rights Act, and support our men and women in uniform," Wise said.
We asked Wise to explain how the Guard and Reserve program works, "Basically, in Arizona, there are 7 Reserve components here. Arizona has actually 6, because Coast Guard Reserve is very far and few between, we have a few down in Yuma, but that's about it."
To join the Guard or Reserve, Wise said, "These folks, they can join any of the branches of service, and they go to Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training, just like any other active duty soldier would. However when they're done with that training, they come back to their community and typically drill and work out of their same community. Except when deployments occur. When deployments occur, they leave their community for an extended periods of time from their civilian employer, or if they're students, they leave from their school, do their one year deployment and come back and fit back into the civilian workforce or whatever it is that they were doing. Bottom line is, their commitment is an 8 year commitment, which they can do in many different ways, they can do like 6 years active, 2 years inactive. They do one weekend a month, typically and two weeks out of the year, less deployments and of course required training, whatever it is."
It's obvious that Wise really believes in the program as he spoke a little more rapidly to describe the benefits, "But the beauty of it is, they typically work in their communities, live in their communities, drill in their communities. So they're an asset all the way around, versus an active duty soldier, that gets transferred from base to base every 2 or 3 years, they might be taken from stateside to overseas or vice versa. It's win-win, and you get a lot more bang for your buck, if you will, from a guard or reservist. I don't mean we don't get it from the active component, but they're dual service, they're serving their communities as well as they're serving their country. So, it's a good fit."
But, it's not just a benefit to the soldiers in the program, Wise explains how it benefits the local communities, too. "In the Guard, specifically, and the Air Guard, they have a unique mission in that they support the state functions as well as the federal functions. What I mean by that, as an example, there could be like fires, floods, snow, and that kind of stuff, and these are the only two components that can be called in to this. The Air Guard and the Army Guard are actually activated by the Governor, to support whatever operation it is to help the community to get through a crisis.The other 5 components can't do that, they're always federal. The Army Guard and Air Guard are state controlled until they're mobilized, and then they become federally controlled."
To make the program work efficiently, there are federal laws that protect the Guardsmen and Reservists, as Wise states, "They're covered two ways, there's a federal law, known as USERA, the Uniformed Services Employment Reemployment Rights Act, that is the federal law that protects employers as well as employees that serve in the Guard and Reserve. It requires them to allow the military person to have time off to do their drills, their required training, their deployments without fearing for coming back and not having a job. They have to hold their job, or a similar job for them while they're on orders."
And that's not all, Wise said, "There's a lot of other stuff that goes with it, there's seniority, health care, benefits, the whole nine yards, but it can get pretty deep. The bottom line is that federal law is there to protect them so they're not afraid they're going to come back and not have a job. It's supposed to be a seamless transition into that job. Same with health care benefits, seniority... the law basically says they have to treat them as if they were continuously employed while they were on orders for military duty."
How long can a person serve in the Guard or Reserve? Wise answered, "There is an age limit to get in and to get out. You can serve 20+ years in the National Guard or Reserves. Typically, most folks put in 20, you'll see a few that put in 30, but the bottom line is, when they turn age 60, they have to get out for obvious reasons. You can put in at least 20 years, and that's what they're hoping you're going to do."
From left to right: Luke Sefton, ESGR Employer Outreach Coordinator, AZ Committee, Butch Wise, ESGR AZ Executive Director, Scott R. Essex, Program Support Manager, Army Reserve Employer Relations, and Prescott City Councilman Bob Bell.