In 1972, a bridge between employers and service members was erected when, anticipating the end of the Vietnam War and the draft, the Department of Defense established the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. The organization commemorated its 40th anniversary June 22.
It is federally mandated that a soldier who is employed when he is called to serve get his job back when he returns. Additionally, this individual is entitled to any promotions or incentives that were granted while he/she was gone, in addition to any pay adjustments. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act is what guarantees these rights. A component of ESGR’s mission is to serve as an ombudsman to ensure employer and employee are fully aware of USERRA.
“The intent is to keep it out of the federal courts so that we can get employers that may have violated the law but didn’t know it to become educated. And employees who violated the law or didn’t understand their rights would now understand their rights,” said Ray Battaglini, ESGR’s New Mexico state chairman. “It became an major educational program to take care of employers and employees throughout the country.”
Today, ESGR’s role has become increasingly important as 1.1 million members of the U.S. military are guardsmen or reservists. Battaglini estimated this to be about half of the total military force in the United States.
A relatively new mission of ESGR is to help retrain servicemen in locating and securing employment. In New Mexico, ESGR has teamed up with the Society for Human Resource Managers to provide a mentorship program for guardsmen and reservists. The program helps the servicemen effectively write a resume, wear appropriate dress, and identify how to get back into the civilian market with the latest skills.
“As we downsize the military, ESGR becomes much more of a player in finding jobs and helping employers get good employees as our nation’s economy rebounds,” Battaglini said.
The nationally high unemployment rate has placed some stress on ESGR’s mission. Yet in New Mexico, major employers such as the Roswell Industrial Air Center, Intel and Sandia National Laboratories—with the need for a large workforce—have helped to ease this strain. Additionally, the skills that guardsmen and reservists “bring to the table,” give them a certain advantage in the workforce.
“Traditionally they’re drug-free. They know how to take orders and supervision and sometimes give supervision. They are punctual,” Battaglini said. “When you talk to many of the employers these are the key factors that keep them from hiring people. … So it is much more attractive to hire a (serviceman) or a veteran in many cases than it is to hire somebody off the street.”
The Roswell chapter of the ESGR represents around 300 servicemen, estimates Gary Smith, chapter president. The chapter, formed in the mid-80s, consists of 20 active members, who all serve on volunteer basis. Smith said Roswell’s ESGR has received significant support from area employers.
Smith has seen first-hand the benefit that ESGR provides to service members. “I was in the reserve with a mobilization slot. During the first Gulf War I got activated. I left my job for nine months. I was not a member of ESGR at the time but ESGR contacted my employer and made sure that everything was copacetic when I came back, which it was. I appreciated that very much. … I joined the ESGR shortly thereafter, and have been a member for 20 years, because I was so impressed with what they did,” he said.
“The National Guard leadership understand how the system works. The rank and file may not. They worry about going to war and coming home. They worry about their families. Our job is to help them not worry about that … and to know that when they come home everything is just like when they left,” Battaglini said.