It’s been more than 375 years since American patriots first organized into militias to protect their fellow citizens and ultimately secure our country’s independence. Back then, a citizen soldier didn’t worry about what would happen to his job while he was away from home battling for hard-fought rights and freedoms.
Today, the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve serve in combat and humanitarian operations around the world as an integral part of the total military force, and provide disaster relief and homeland security to our states and local communities. They’re often away from home for long periods of time, which means they’re also away from their civilian jobs.
“Imagine being in a Guard or Reserve member’s boots,” said Dick Rue, state chair of the Iowa Committee of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. “When they’re facing deployment to a combat or disaster zone, they’re worried, ‘Will my job be there when I return?’ or ‘Will my family be taken care of while I’m away?’”
From a business perspective, having an employee gone can be a burden on the employer, said Becky Coady, program support technician for Iowa ESGR.
“But even during the most recent, large-scale military deployments, Iowa employers have remained firmly committed to accommodating their military employees’ service obligations and providing invaluable support and stability to military members and their families,” Coady said. “We have lots of stories of employers doing remarkable things for their people — much more than just sending care packages during deployments. They support their spouses and families, provide flexible work schedules, and some even continue to pay their military employees while they’re away from work.”
Meeting the needs of military personnel and their civilian employers is why ESGR was founded 40 years ago. When the Department of Defense began to anticipate the conclusion of the Vietnam War, and with it the end of the mandatory military draft, it established ESGR to support the unique relationship between a military force comprised of more Guard and Reservists, and the businesses which employed them as civilians. The result is a unique, multi-faceted agency that promotes a culture of respect, cooperation and understanding.
ESGR serves both Guard and Reserve members and their employers through a variety of programs. Its core focus is on maintaining employer support programs, providing information and training, and coordinating mediation services when employment conflicts do arise. The agency also provides award programs in which employers are recognized for their dedication to military employees, including the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, presented annually to only 15 employers that support their Guard and Reservists with above-and-beyond practices. Since its inception in 1996, Iowa has had three recipients of the Freedom Award — Augustine and Sons of Rose Hill, Principal Financial Group of Des Moines, and Nyemaster Goode Law Firm of Des Moines.
For those Guard and Reserve members who have no job to come home to, ESGR is also committed to assisting them find meaningful civilian employment. Reserve Component programs, such as Hero 2 Hired (or H2H.jobs), provide a way to connect qualified military personnel with open positions throughout the country. Launched in 2011, H2H.jobs has already proven to be a valuable tool for the Guard and Reserve community, with more than 28,000 registered job seekers.
But all of this work isn’t handled exclusively by government personnel.
“Volunteers are crucial to ESGR’s success,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Jessica Wright. “This organization is managed by a small group of full-time people. However, it’s more than 4,800 nationwide volunteers who are the cornerstone, heart and soul of ESGR.”
The Iowa Committee for ESGR has nearly 200 volunteers statewide who serve the nearly 10,000 active Guard and Reserve members and the state’s 230,000 employers.
“Our volunteers come from all walks of life,” said Rue. “Some have a military background, but many don’t, and they see ESGR as a great way to serve those who are currently serving our country. And we’re always looking for new volunteers.”
Mark Stanton of Mason City has served ESGR for nearly 25 years in a variety of capacities, including his current role as chair of Area 12 in Northern Iowa.
“ESGR has worked very hard to develop relationships with employers, media and legislature so we may continue to support our mission to make sure every employer, and every military employee, has someone to call with a concern,” said Stanton.
As ESGR kicks off its fifth decade, the focus will remain on promoting a world where all employers support and value the military service of their employees, and adapt to meet the needs of service members, their families and civilian employers. From the beginning of this nation’s heritage of service through present days, ESGR reminds everyone that together, “We All Serve.”
For further information on ESGR in Iowa, go to www.IowaESGR.org.