Mobilization of Micronesia’s National Guard and Reserve personnel is at an all time high.
Brig. Gen. Robert M. Cockey the adjutant general of the Guam Army National Guard said employers will see the effect of this call-up for the next 18 to 24 months.
“We know that the president is going to be taking 70 000 [active duty] troops out of Europe and Asia so I would say the worst is what we are seeing this year. The Guard will be ready to deploy “ Cockey said. “I expect the [Guam] Air Guard to continue sending 50% of its forces on a 120-day cycle every 20 months but the [Guam] Army National Guard is going to be heavily deployed for up to a year-and-a-half.”
By year’s end nearly 400 personnel from the Mariana Islands will head to the Horn of Africa and to the Middle East to serve in various fighting roles.
About 156 soldiers from the 1-294th Infantry Battalion are serving in actions in the Horn of Africa on a special force protection mission that began in January. Another 156 soldiers will replace those in the Horn by the end of the year.
|A member of the 1-294th Infantry Battalion A Company salutes Col. Jerry M. Rivera assistant adjutant general for the Guam National Army Guard prior to boarding an aircraft on June 27 at Ft. Polk La. bound for the Horn of Africa. Team Alpha soldiers left Guam earlier this year and will be deployed for approximately 18 months. Photo by Air Force 2nd Lt. Josephine M.P. Blas|
Meanwhile 70 guardsmen from the 1224th Engineering Battalion and another 50 from the Reverse Osmosis Water and Purification Unit — part of the 909th Quartermaster Detach-ment of the Guam Army National Guard are gearing up for deployment in the next two months for the Middle East.
“We had our first call-up in January and the second call-up is coming. This is the most pressure that we have ever felt since this Guard’s inception in 1982 ” Cockey said. “Nationally half of the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are Guardsmen and we have tapped the barrel.”
Redeployment of active duty troops from Asia and Europe may eventually ease pressure on Reserve and Guard units nationwide. Meanwhile Micronesia Guard and Reserve members are being called.
“We have been off the Pentagon’s radar screen mainly because of our location. In many other states Guards have had three or four call ups. Now it is our turn ” he said.
Reserve components are equally affected by the massive call-up. Howard Sugai public affairs officer for Pacific Army Reserves at Fort Shafter Hawaii confirmed hundreds of reservists in Guam and the CNMI left Aug. 17 for pre-theater training in Hawaii. “In this particular instance the call-up of Company E of the 100th Battalion 442 Infantry affects 94 reservists in Saipan including a couple from Tinian and Rota and about 50 from Guam.” The Saipan group left Aug. 17 and the Guam component left Aug. 21.
Capt. Franklin R. Babauta commander of the U.S. Army Reserve Unit for the CNMI confirmed the number of reservists called to active duty. They will train in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland prior to deployment to Iraq.
For many of the reservists this was the first time they were called to active duty. This group includes a number of civilian first responders from the Department of Public Safety and a lawmaker Rep. Ray A.N. Yumul. Babauta said “There are only three who had been in an active duty status before and only one is a veteran of Desert Storm ” he said.
Sugai said the Company E call-up is for 18 months. Three months will be spent training for a 12-month tour in the desert followed by a three-month stand-down period.
In addition to Guam and Saipan troops there are about 200 Marshall Islanders serving in the military many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For the first time many employers are dealing with the loss of employees to the war effort. Hardest hit are public safety departments many of whose staff serve in the guard and reserve.
The Mariana Islands leads the nation in per capita recruiting and parallels the nation in its manpower contribution to the War in Iraq. This laudable evidence of patriotism leaves regional employers both large and small facing an ever-increasing problem: what to do when key personnel are called up.
Ever since the nation began relying on an all-volunteer military at the end of the Vietnam War in the mid ‘70s the National Guard and the Reserves have been augmenting the country’s active duty military. Today 1.2 million Americans serve in the Guard and reserve representing nearly one half of its total military force.
Key personnel are given as little as two weeks notice leaving employers with gaps in their employment structure.
Gary W. “Frank” Gumataotao is chairman of the Guam/CNMI Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve a volunteer agency of the Department of Defense. Its mission is to gain and maintain active support from all public and private employers for the National Guard and Reserve.
Gumataotao believes that by year’s end all Micronesia’s deployable components and their members — more than 1 200 —will be serving in an active duty status.
“The war is continuing. More and more people are being called on to support the war. The demands of an all-volunteer military continue to put huge pressures on businesses employers and employees alike ” Gumataotao said. “Each time a unit call-up is announced local employers are immediately thinking to themselves ‘Who in my organization is going to go next for how long and what will this mean?’ And my phone starts to ring.”
Gumataotao general manager of Island Equipment Co. said “I receive calls almost daily from employers that have or soon will be losing one or more key employees. They don’t know what to do.”
The 1984 Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act mandated that military members must be allowed leave for activation and must be promptly reemployed upon completion of service. Deployment can last up to five years and jobs are protected until the reservist returns.
Employee and employer rights are spelled out in Chapter 43 of Title 38 U.S. Code. All Guard and Reserve members are entitled to a leave of absence to perform military service whether voluntary or involuntary. They are not required to use earned personal vacation during the period of service. Employees are entitled to restoration of employment following military service with seniority status and rate of pay as if continuously employed.
Employers have rights as well. These include the right to advance notice of an employee’s upcoming military duty; and proof of an employee’s military duty.
“Applying the law gets complicated and there are numerous conditions that might apply in some situations and that is where I come in ” Gumataotao said. “The ESGR is here to help and mediate situations where problems arise.”
To a small business the loss of a single employee can have devastating consequences.
“Employers are suffering. Those who own their own business are losing money because in nearly every case key personnel are being called up. Take a doctor with a small office who is all of a sudden is faced with losing an office manager or the doctor is called up with virtually no lead time. Everything is put on hold. It could stop the business cause great financial loss or in the case of public safety officers put a community in danger ” he said.
While there are mechanisms to request a waiver from service for essential employees it is an exercise in futility.
“There have been no waivers issued following the events of 9/11 and they will not issue any because we are on a war footing ” Gumataotao said. “I got that directly from the assistant Secretary of Defense.”
Air Force 2nd Lt. Josephine M.P. Blas public affairs officer for the Guam National Guard told the Journal employers can expect to see more Guam Guard and Reserve members called up in the next few months.
“For security reasons I can’t divulge exact numbers and dates but I can say that over these next few months more and more members are going to be activated putting pressure on both employers and employees ” Blas said. “The citizen soldier is being called upon to fight the war on terror at an ever-increasing pace. The tempo is increasing as all [military] specialties are being called. No one is exempted now.”
Blas said it is a matter of when not if. “A lot of members have already received tentative orders and timetables of when they are going.”
Generally personnel are told if they are going to be in the “sand box ” referring to desert and the Middle East.
Blas said gone are the days when clerks were rarely called up. “It used to be that infantry people were the first to go but now it is across the board. Everybody serves somehow.” Prior to the events of 9/11 and the Iraqi war an enlisted person would know which specialties were deployable. “Now any career field can be called up.”
Blas said beyond the patriotic service that both employers and employees were providing guard and reserve staff should be valued. “The citizen soldier is an employee that should be respected and maybe revered because that person knows loyalty how to prioritize time and has a deep conviction for whatever task is at hand.”
Over the last two decades Guard and Reserve forces have been reduced by 28%. From 1986 to the end of 2002 Guard and Reserve utilization increased from 800 000 man-hours to 46.8 million hours. Without employer support Blas said the Guard and Reserves could not answer the country’s call. “Employers have become inextricably linked to our national security. Imagine a business that increased its production by 4 600% while reducing its workforce by a third. That is what has happened.”
Kenneth Q. Lujan regional manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration on Guam is also a Master Sgt. in the Air Force Reserve.
“It is really difficult to manage an office that is here to support businesses while at the same time be at the beck and call of the president.” He returned Aug. 9 from a three-week training mission with the 44th Aerial Port Squadron.
The SBA offers employers a loan program when economic loss is incurred due to the call-up of essential employees.
“The purpose of the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is to provide funds to an eligible small business. This is to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses that it could have met but is unable to meet because an essential employee was called up to active duty in their role as a military reservist ” Lujan told the Journal. “These loans provide up to $1.3 million on a maximum term of 30 years.”
An essential employee is defined as a person whether or not an owner whose managerial or technical expertise is critical to the successful day-to-day operations of the small business.
“We know that more and more employers are going to be hit because of the increased call to fight terror and there is a program to help. But we all need to remember that everyone must sacrifice in order to win the war on terror ” Lujan said.
While all those interviewed emphasized the need for employers to support the war effort and their employees there is help for employers trying to navigate the labyrinth of rules regarding deployment of an employee.
“Our goal has been to give 30 days’ notice to Guardsmen and their employers but as unforeseen situations develop it is likely that employers will have less time to plan ” Gumataotao said.
Blas called on employers to “remain a shining example for the rest of the country.”
Despite protection under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 against foreclosure enforcement of liens etc. for many deployed personnel there is a loss in wages and the possible loss of health benefits. Cockey and Gumataotao both said that employers should help affected employees by maintaining medical plans and meeting the difference between service and civilian pay.
“Fortune 500 companies all across the country are pitching in to fight the war on terror by supporting the citizen soldier. I’m sure companies in Micronesia are also. It is the right thing to do because the employer is as patriotic as the employee.”
Gregory D. Perez president of Perez Bros. Inc. expects to see a number of employees leaving for National Guard duty. He said Perez Bros. would follow all rules covering any employee’s right to his position. “We will work with our Guard and Reserve employees to make sure there is no lapse in medical coverage and on pay issues. It’s important that we do our part as they are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect Guam and the country in the war on terror.” MBJ