JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (5/17/13) – As the National Guard transitioned from a strategic to operational reserve since 9/11, the Missouri National Guard evolved with the times, adapting and spearheading a number of state and federal jobs initiatives to ensure the nation’s part-time force is fully prepared.
Under Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Steve Danner’s leadership, the Missouri National Guard has empowered federal programs like the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program and Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, while at the same time working with Missouri’s commander-in-chief, Gov. Jay Nixon, to launch state initiatives like the Show-Me Heroes Program.
“Our Soldiers and Airmen are modern Minute Men, ready to answer their nation’s call at any moment,” Danner said. “While they’re protecting the homeland, we’ve got a responsibility to protect them and their families’ economic well-being.”
To do that, one of Danner’s early goals as Adjutant General was to consolidated Family and Warrior Support programs in the Patriot Center at state headquarters in Jefferson City. This meant the Guard was able to maximize responsible resource management, ensure efforts weren’t being duplicated by competing offices, and empower seasoned leaders and subject matter experts to enhance their ability to support Guard members. In a challenging economic climate, jobs were at the center of the effort.
Employment is a cornerstone of the Guard’s readiness, Danner said. Unlike the active duty military, most Guard members serve part-time and leave jobs and businesses when they deploy. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Missouri has fielded approximately 17,600 individual deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Sinai, Qatar and areas around the world.
“Soldiers and Airmen put on the uniform to protect the nation abroad during war and to protect their communities during times of natural disaster,” Danner said. “When they aren’t wearing the uniform, they’re also protecting our national security interests by contributing to our economy through civilian employment. Just as we wouldn’t send a Soldier to war without a weapon or send an Airman to fight a flood without a sandbag, we want to make sure we’re outfitting our Guardsmen for success in the civilian job market.”
Since taking charge, Danner has made resiliency a key component of Guard culture. Whether it is a new Soldier or Airman in the Recruit Sustainment Program or Student Flight or a veteran returning from an overseas theater, Danner’s message is the same: the Guard supports you. Guardsmen receive briefings on money management and programs aimed at helping them find or maintain jobs.
Under Gov. Nixon’s leadership, Guardsmen have received extensive support.
“Missouri is going to great lengths to ensure our returning service personnel have access to programs designed specifically to get them reintegrated into the workforce as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said 2nd Lt. Jon Barry, director of the Show-Me Heroes Program. “Not all service members will need this assistance, but it’s being made available to all of Missouri’s veterans and service members.”
For the Guard, specifically, protections have been added to support them while conducting their state mission.
According to a Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Component members conducted in June 2012 and released in January 2013, financial stability, readjusting to working life, and reemployment constitute three of the four biggest concerns for returning reserve and Guard members. To break it down further, financial stability and readjusting to work life are the two biggest concerns for demobilizing reserve component members. Activated reserve component members listed financial stability and reemployment as their two biggest concerns.
Statewide, the Missouri National Guard is working alongside state and national organizations to provide employment assistance programs for Guardsmen, said Capt. Nicholas Swoboda, director of Family Programs. The employment assistance office is in the process of expanding by placing an officer or noncommissioned officer in seven regional areas.
“Our current program seeks to draw on existing state resources to maximize their exposure and capitalize on the experience of trained job placers,” Swoboda said. “The challenge is getting the programs out to rural areas, and away from the flag pole. We have seven Family Assistance Center regions throughout the state of Missouri who operate as resource and referral centers.”
But, the program isn’t just waiting for service members to come to them, Swoboda said.
“We are currently gathering names and contact information from the commands of unemployed service members, and our plan is to reach out to each and every Soldier regionally to offer personal assistance through the Family assistance specialist and employment assistance noncommissioned officer,” Swoboda said. “The Family assistance specialist will personally assist the service member with some preliminary job seeking actions.”
Through a partnership with Missouri Workforce Development, the Guard is also offering employment education to service members, including interview skills, resume building and learning how to market themselves.
Whenever a Soldier or Airman returns from deployment, they must attend the Yellow Ribbon Program. The program’s goal is to aid Guardsmen with reintegration following a deployment. A key component of the program is recognizing the contributions of employers who have supported Guardsmen overseas or helping Guardsmen who’s jobs may have gone away during their deployments find new ones.
The Missouri Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, or ESGR, is at the center of this effort. The committee works to ensure Guardsmen’s jobs are protected and they are not being penalized for their service. But the program’s goal is not to punish violators as much as it is to facilitate a culture of understanding between Guardsmen and their employers.
More than 10,300 employers across Missouri have signed statements pledging to support reserve component service members. The program is growing – in 2012, more than 1,800 employers signed statements.
Whether deployed overseas to support contingency operations or mobilized in Missouri to help in the wake of a natural disaster, Missouri’s Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen have job protection through the federal and state government, said Steven Brothers, an ESGR program support specialist.
The ESGR program has existed for more than 40 years, but the need for it has been increased after 9/11, Brothers said.
“The Guard and Reserve were called in to become more of an operational force than a strategic force, and with a higher operational tempo, there are more phone calls and more issues as we rely on the reserve forces,” Brothers said. “It’s more important than ever to assist not just with the service members, but with the employers who are definitely affected by the deployments as well.”
One of the program’s mottos is “we all serve,” Brothers said. Although a Soldier or Airman may be the one in uniform, their employer also sacrifices. The Guard and ESGR, in particular, have worked hard to ensure employers are getting the support they need so their employees can continue to serve.
“It goes both ways,” Brothers said. “We expect employers to be supportive, but we tell military members there are things they can do, too. That includes putting employers in for awards. Spouses are also encouraged to put their employers in for awards.”
As the Guard continues to lean on the Yellow Ribbon Program and ESGR, the Nixon administration has stepped up to the plate to go to bat for Guardsmen and Veterans. Nixon’s Show-Me Heroes program is a partnership between the Missouri National Guard and the Missouri Division of Workforce Development, which connects Missouri Veterans and service members with supporting employers. The program has a vast reach throughout the state with Missouri Career Centers located throughout Missouri, robust online resources and job-readiness workshops.
By May 6, 2,975 Missouri employers have taken the Show-Me Heroes pledge.
“Essentially, employers are pledging to make an additional effort to reach out to Missouri Veterans and service members and recognize the training we receive as military personnel make us highly valuable employees in the modern workplace,” Barry said. “Based on our integration with Workforce Development and the Veterans programs we have in place, Missouri is ahead of the curve.”
This has resulted in 4,268 Missouri Veterans being hired. The actual number may be significantly higher, Barry said.
“The reporting is voluntary on behalf of the employer — we don’t have the resources available now to contact every employer in a regular basis,” Barry said. “I think the actual economic impact is exponentially higher.”
Knowing programs like Show-Me Heroes are available to service members eases the burden they may feel when returning from an overseas deployment, Barry said.
“The benefit of having these resources available to veterans and service members is that they are able to accept and focus on their missions, knowing before they return home that there is an infrastructure and system of resources in-place on the ground that can quickly and efficiently reintegrate them into the civilian work force,” Barry said.