When the Department of Defense began to anticipate the end of the Vietnam War and with it the draft, it established an agency to oversee a relationship that would be critical to our nation's ability to maintain an all-volunteer military. For the past 40 years, that agency-the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve-has labored to develop and promote a culture in which all American employers support and value the military service of their employees in the National Guard and Reserve. The last decade of continuous combat and historic natural disasters has tested our reliance on the reserve components of our military members and their employers, revealing both groups' willingness to make extraordinary sacrifices for the good of our country.
In 1972, one of the first programs launched by ESGR was the Statement of Support, a pledge employers sign affirming they will follow legal obligations to military employees and provide additional support when needed. The Statement of Support remains a symbol of strong commitment when signed by present-day employers, providing reassurance to military employees. Guard and Reserve members' anxiety over military service and deployments lessens, knowing employers stand behind them and are committed to protecting their jobs even during the increased deployments of the last decade.
Another vital component of ESGR's mission, the ombudsmen program, has assisted Guard and Reserve Service members and employers since 1975. Throughout the United States, the CNMI, Guam, and the other territories, trained ombudsmen provide free information and neutral mediation to help resolve workplace issues. The current federal law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, provides employment rights and responsibilities for Guard and Reserve Service members so they are not penalized professionally for their service to our country. Yet, service members can suffer if their employers lack awareness of these rights and responsibilities. In some cases, Guardsmen and Reservists return from deployment to a combat zone, only to find their time away cost them a pay raise, promotion, or job. Today, the Guam-CNMI State Committee of ESGR has a cadre of 20 volunteers, with 2 ombudsmen, to assist Guardsmen, Reservists and employers in the CNMI and Guam.
Most employers willingly support their military employees, and in many cases go above and beyond their legal responsibilities. In response, ESGR developed a robust awards program to recognize these employers. Our nation could not meet its current national security demands without the Guard and Reserve, which make up a force of about 1.3 million service members or about 48 percent of our entire military might, who in turn could not sustain their service without those who employ them. Employers in the CNMI and Guam are doing their part. Just this past March, our ESGR state committee held its 3rd annual awards recognition gala event to honor those very employers in the CNMI who were nominated by their service member employees, for all the good things they did and continue to do to help them and their families cope with constant military deployments, long training schedules and other military duties they must perform away from work and many times, away from home.
In spite of strong employer support, too many Guard and Reserve members are still slipping through the cracks, falling into unemployment. As recently as 2011, the unemployment rate for the most junior members of the Guard and Reserve rose to 23 percent; imagine how these young heroes struggle when nearly a quarter of them are out of work. We owe them better. Considering these men and women are dedicated leaders who perform under the most strenuous of circumstances, we also owe it to ourselves to keep them in the civilian workforce.
In response, late last year ESGR partnered with the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program to support their employment program, Hero 2 Hired (H2H). H2H helps match Guardsmen and Reservists looking for a job with employers committed to hiring a service member via the www.H2H.jobs platform. While H2H is open to all military members, it serves as the Department of Defense's primary program dedicated to addressing the unique employment needs of members of the Guard and Reserve, providing free services to service members and employers.
I encourage every employer to examine their employment policies, consider how they are supporting their military employees, and look for ways to hire and support Guard and Reserve members. The Guam-CNMI State Committee of ESGR stands ready to assist our employers and service members in this endeavor. As our nation recognized four decades ago, a strong all-volunteer military will forever rely on our employers' support. Happy 40th birthday, ESGR; may you continue to serve our nation and our community in the CNMI and Guam! (David J. Sablan)
David J. Sablan is the state chair of the Guam-CNMI State Committee for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, U.S. Department of Defense.