By Rachel Hsiao
It was a hot, humid, and muggy summer day when I joined my fiancé Patrick, an active Army Guard Reservist, for my first Family Organization Day (or mandatory fun, as the military likes to call it). On the one hand, I was looking forward to learning more about my fiancé’s unit, how I might be able to help out, and meeting more of his coworkers. On the other hand, all I wanted was a cold shower. But I told myself that if my fiancé, Patrick, could do PT in weather like this, then I could certainly suck it up and make it past lunch. I stayed. That’s how I met retired Lieutenant Colonel Mike Moose of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR).
Mike joined the Army in 1971 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. He spent most of Army career in Air Defense Artillery. After a 19 months deployment in Okinawa, Japan, he was sent to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, where he has remained since. He left active duty service in 1975 and became a reservist until 1999, when he retired. He joined ESGR in 1989. He explains that in order to have an effective military, there must be three components- “a dedicated soldier, a family that supports them, and an employer that at least complies with the law.”
While serving as a Soldier in the Army Reserves, Mike was employed by Radio Shack. He believes he was fortunate in having a supportive employer, but he knows that not all Soldiers have been as fortunate as him. That is where ESGR comes in. ESGR is a Department of Defense agency that provides support to the Guard and Reserve service members and their employers. Specifically, it promotes cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers, and assists in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee’s military commitment.
If a Reserve service member believes that their employer is not acting in accordance with USERRA, he or she can contact ESGR to provide assistance. ESGR may have a representative, such as Mike, contact and/or meet the employer to explain and educate the employer. For example, Mike says that some employers think the service member has to find their own replacement if he or she will be away for military duty. That’s wrong. Mike clarifies that all the service member needs to do is notify the employer that he or she will be away from work for their military duties. Of course it doesn’t help if the service member gives the employer a three day notice. So in addition to educating employers, ESGR can also brief service members on their rights and responsibilities.
At the Family Organization Day I attended, Mike gave a brief presentation to the Soldiers about the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and how ESGR could assist them should any employment conflict arise. According to Mike, getting private sector cooperation with ESGR is easier in states where there is a higher military community, such as the Ft. Bragg area. However, he also noted the importance of being proactive. It’s important, he says, for Reserve service members to keep their employer informed as to when they will be unavailable to work due to their military duties. “Getting cooperation from the employer and the Reserve service member is a two way street,” Mike says. “Although there is a law that employers have to follow, it is incumbent on the Soldier to notify the employer, whether the employer is big or small, private or public.”
When Mike discussed the fact that part of ESGR’s program involves giving presentations to Soldiers about their legal rights and the past lawsuits ESGR provided assistance with, my head snapped up. This could be an opportunity for MSJDN members to get involved! But there was more. But there was even more possibility than that.
In his presentation, Mike noted that educating the employer and/or service member is not always enough. The different levels of ESGR involvement depend on what the Reserve service member wants and what type of evidence is available. If the case is more severe, ESGR may assist Reserve component members with legal counsel in bringing the case forward through the proper legal channels. Again, I thought of the possibilities if MSJDN were to help ESGR. Since that day, I have met Mike twice to get to know him better and to discuss the possibilities between ESGR and MSJDN.
So how can military spouse attorneys assist ESGR? Mike admits that this would be a new angle for ESGR. When I explained MSJDN, our mission, and our members, he was extremely interested and excited to explore the possibilities of partnership. In the meantime, there are a couple of levels of work through which MSJDN members can get involved. One method is to assist with the educational and informational sessions ESGR provides to service members. Another method (and perhaps the method MSJDN members would be most interested in) is the Ombudsman program. Through the Ombudsman program, attorneys receive mediation training and then apply that training to help mediate between the employer and the service member to come to a resolution.
Sound interesting? You can learn about existing opportunities to help on the ESGR website. MSJDN hopes to explore partnership possibilities with ESGR, and updates will follow if a more formal program for volunteering is established.
Rachel Hsiao is engaged to an active Army Guard Reservist, and is a legal services specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org