BY MORGAN LEGEL
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guam National Guard’s unemployment rate, outside of duty, was 32%, which did include students.
As the pandemic continues in Guam its resultant effect is sending unemployment soaring. Likewise, the number of unemployed personnel in the Guard is growing.
“The majority of incoming recruits are unemployed,” Master Sgt. Rosemarie Elliot, told the Journal. Elliot is a recruiter for the Guam Army command.
The Guard’s unemployment rate is determined by the Family Programs Office, which regularly polls Guard members for required demographics, according to Mark Scott, public affairs officer for the Guard.
Guard members are currently deployed in a variety of ways.
There are 240 Guard members activated for COVID-19 response who are assisting with community testing, as well as more than 100 activated in support of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD system at Andersen Air Force Base.
The THAAD is an anti-ballistic missile defense system designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in descent or reentry. The system initially came to Guam in 2014.
Guard members are also teleworking on Guam to complete mission standards. Offices, like Scott’s, are all working from home.
Additional Guard members are deployed or deploying to the southwest border of the United States and the Arabian Peninsula.
“We’re left with a remaining force of part-time service members sufficient to support additional mission requirements that may arise, such as typhoon recovery or replacing any COVID-19 positives within the ranks,” Scott said.
David J. Sablan Jr., chair emeritus for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve said there are about 1,300 members of the Guard on the island. With the 32% employment rate, more than 400 guard members are classified as unemployed.
To Sablan’s knowledge, the unemployment rate amongst all the combined branches, both the Army and Air National Guard, as well as the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard and Navy reserves, on island is 13%. This means, the unemployment rate for the reserves is miniscule. With about 1,200 members of the combined reserves, the unemployment rate would have to be less than 1% to even out the average of all Guard and reservists on island.
Sablan also said 27% of all Guard and reservists work in the private sector. Since the Guam Government is still getting paid, most of the new unemployed come from the private sector; 4% of the unemployed is students.
Scott said, “Although we are not an employment agency, and we do not bring service members on duty for the sake of employment, we do have programs to help our service members find employment.”
That help includes monthly job fairs during drill weekends, vouchers via Westcare Foundation for members to study at the GCA Trades Academy, in-house training and mentorship on resume building and interview skills, as well as functional area hands-on training and industry certification vouchers.
Westcare is a non-profit that aims to empower people to engage in a process of healing, growth and change benefiting themselves, their families, coworkers and communities. That change includes training.
There is also a recruiting drive which can bring additional income for a family of up to $20,000 in an enlistment bonus, Scott said.
The ESGR also helps educate employers on employment responsibilities for Guard members.
Sablan said he personally speaks with employers and informs them of their responsibilities and obligations under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act.
“This law effectively prevents discrimination in the workplace against service member employees (and military veterans) vs. other employees who are not members of the military.
“USERRA also protects the jobs of service member employees when they are called up for military duty from weekend drills one weekend a month to long deployments lasting six months or longer,” Sablan said.
Guard enlistments have also been affected by the pandemic.
“We had a slight pause in our pipeline with COVID. One of those bottlenecks is military entrance processing. Naval hospital was no longer accepting that part of the in-processing for us. We set up a temporary processing center for us; but we still see the recruiting process happening,” Scott said.
In other Guard news, federal funding for the activation of the Guard has been extended to Dec. 31. When Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero initially activated the Guard on March 21 under State Active Duty requirements, the Government of Guam covered the price tag through April 1, costing the government approximately $135,000. This amount will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Our governor was one of the first governors to activate the National Guard, leading to the guard to be put on 502(F) [status], which says that in certain cases, the National Guard can be activated to work for the state, under federal dollars,” Scott said.
Essentially, if the Guard is operating under a federal mission, it is funded by the U.S. government; if it is operating within a state or territory’s borders, it is funded by that state’s government. This caveat lets the Guard operate within Guam’s borders, but on the dime of the U.S. government.
“Us being put on the federal dollars so quickly has saved GovGuam something to the tune of $4.1-some million,” Scott said.
From April 1, the Guard’s activation was covered by the federal government, which funded 100% of the cost.
The Guard was “getting ready to get everyone in line and begin out-processing” for the Aug. 7 drop-off date, Scott said.
In mid-August, federal funding was extended until the end of the year, but with a change in the percentage of funding.
From Aug. 21 through the end of the year, the federal government will fund 75% of costs, while the government of Guam is on the line for 25% of the cost, which is estimated to be $1.3 million. mbj