By Maj. Robert P. Palmer, Chief, Strategic Communications, National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, Arlington, Virginia
n the wall in the office of Chief Kevin McQuaid of the Brook Park, Ohio, Police Department hangs a framed copy of a statement of support for the National Guard and the U.S. military reserves, flanked by photos of three police officers from the Brook Park Police Department who have been called to active duty in the guard or the reserves.
The statement of support, sponsored by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), is a public affirmation of employers’ commitment to support their employees who serve in the National Guard or the reserves. ESGR is the U.S. Department of Defense organization charged with gaining and maintaining support of America’s employers for the National Guard and the reserves. “I would hate to have an officer activated to serve in Iraq or something like Hurricane Katrina and have to worry if his job will be there when he is done,” said McQuaid. “It poses a challenge when they’re away, but it is for a greater cause.”
McQuaid said the city council in Brook Park passed an ordinance that provides full pay and benefits to police officers while they are on active duty. “It’s part of the city’s philosophy,” McQuaid said.
Brook Park is home to the Third Battalion of the 25th Marine Regiment, a reserve unit that suffered the loss of 14 reservists in Iraq in August 2005. According to McQuaid, one of the Brook Park police officers was attached to that unit. “When we heard of the casualties, we were all worried about our fellow officers,” he said. “It is probably the closest I have come to understanding how a parent must feel when they hear that their son or daughter has been killed or wounded.”
McQuaid explained that supporting employees who are deployed benefits the whole department. “It really brought the department together,” he said. “There is much greater camaraderie now.”
The Reemployment Rights Act
In 1994 Congress passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, to protect the civilian employment of members of the National Guard and the reserves. USERRA prohibits discrimination against employees based on their military service obligation and requires civilian employers to allow employees to take a leave of absence to perform their military duty, including training and mobilization. For more information on USERRA or how a police department can support its employees serving in the National Guard or the reserves, please visit the ESGR Web site at www.esgr.mil.
Bob Hollingsworth, executive director of ESGR, points out that the global war on terrorism has increased the important role that employers have. “The National Guard and reserves make up nearly half of our total force,” said Hollingsworth. “This means that we share our most valuable resource with U.S. employers.” This shared resource makes U.S. employers an important component of national security. According to the Department of Defense, police officer is the most common occupation of National Guardsmen and military reservists.
Chief Daniel C. Rosa Jr., who heads the 66-person police department in Billerica, Massachusetts, said that members of the National Guard and reserves make good police officers. “Guardsmen and reservists come with good attitudes, good work ethic, and discipline,” said Rosa. “They bring training and experience to the department beyond what we would normally have.”
When his three reservists are activated, it does pose some manpower challenges, but Rosa notes that the town is supportive and makes up the difference in the pay that police officers earn on active duty. “It is our patriotic duty,” said Rosa. “The guard and reserves are part of our national defense.”
Sheriff Dave Galloway of Hendricks County, Indiana, has seen employer support from both sides. Galloway retired from the Army Reserve with 21 years of service and retired as the chief of police in Brownsburg, Indiana, in May, when he received his party’s nomination for sheriff. He deployed twice as a reservist, first for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf and then for Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia.
As a reservist, Galloway saw his law enforcement experience pay off. He attained the rank of chief warrant officer and served as a criminal investigator while he was deployed. “Having experienced the stress of being a police officer and having to interact with the public paid off in the combat zone,” said Galloway. “Life experience helps.”
Galloway said that reserve duty also made him and the police officers he supervised better police officers. “My police officers who serve in the guard and reserves understand the importance of following a chain of command,” he said. “They have developed leadership skills and received supervisory training.” Galloway said guardsmen and reservists tend to maintain their physical conditioning and take pride in their personal appearance.
In 2005 the Department of Defense recognized the support of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) with the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the Defense Department’s most prestigious award for employer support. The LAPD has had nearly 500 employees in the National Guard and reserves called to active duty since September 11, 2001. It pays guardsmen and reservists the difference between their military pay and civilian pay and continues employee benefits through the time that the guardsman or reservist is activated. The department has also created a military liaison office that offers assistance to mobilized employees and their families.
Officer Brandon Valdez of the LAPD nominated the police department for the Freedom Award. Valdez, a member of the Marine Reserve, was injured by an improvised explosive device near Ramadi, Iraq. In his nomination, he wrote,
Throughout my military activation and recovery process, the department . . . [has] given me the utmost support. I am aware of countless other officers and employees they have assisted [who] have [served] or are serving in the guard and reserve and they are doing an outstanding job of family support. The LAPD has gone above and beyond to ensure our military employees receive all the pay and benefits they earned and deserve and they do so with both a personal and professional can-do attitude. Based on this positive experience, I look forward to completing my tour with the Marines and picking up where I left off with the Los Angeles Police Department.
What Police Departments Can Do
The National Guard and the military reserves form an integral part of U.S. defense forces. More than half the men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces are members of the National Guard or the reserves. Their performance must meet the same standards as their active-duty counterparts. As employers of many National Guard members and military reservists, police departments must allow employees who are members of the National Guard and reserves to serve, and the departments’ active support and encouragement are critical to employees’ success. Here are some ways departments can help.
- Learn more about the role of the National Guard and reserves. Attend open houses and public functions at local military units. Talk about the National Guard and reserves with military and civilian leaders in your community. Ask police officers what they do in the National Guard and the reserves and how the guard and the reserves fit into the big picture of national defense.
- Get to know the military commanders and supervisors of the police department’s National Guard members and reservists. Ask military units to provide the police department with advance notice of employees’ annual military duty schedule and work out conflicts as early as possible. Call on employees’ military commanders or supervisors if there is a conflict. Military commanders face some of the same challenges facing the police department, and they know that it is in everyone’s best interest to work together. Quite often, military commanders can offer alternative dates. By taking a more active role in supporting the members of the National Guard and the reserves who work for the police department, the department will improve the quality of life for its employees, enhance the success of the department, and provide an invaluable service to the nation.
- Place the department’s support in writing by signing a statement of support for the National Guard and military reserves. Display it prominently for all your employees and visitors to see.
- Examine personnel policies to see how the stated policies accommodate and support participation in the National Guard or the reserves. For example, do they include provisions for military leave of absence (exclusive of earned vacation time)? Do they ensure job opportunities and benefits equivalent to those of other employees?
- Get the entire leadership team to support the National Guard and the reserves. Explain the department’s position and address concerns as they may arise.
- Encourage employee participation in the National Guard and the reserves. Recognize and publicize National Guard members’ and reservists’ dedication and commitment to the department and the nation. When appropriate, apply the training they receive from military duty. Employees’ service in the National Guard and the reserves can enhance their job performance and value to the department and community.
- Accept that there may be occasional concerns with employment of citizen soldiers and their requirement to perform military duty. Seek to resolve them as soon as they arise. When possible, discuss with employees their service requirements before problems arise, and keep an open dialogue to prevent conflicts.
Police departments can seek assistance from ESGR by calling 800-336-4590 to speak with an ombudsman. Ombudsmen serve as confidential, neutral liaisons for employers and employees who seek assistance or clarification regarding their rights and responsibilities. More than 90 percent of the calls they receive are resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved. ESGR ombudsmen work closely with the Veteran’s Employment and Training Service in the Department of Labor and will make referrals if formal assistance is needed.
For more detailed information about specific employment rights and responsibilities, visit the ESGR Web site at www.esgr.mil. It includes resources and a link to the USERRA.■