SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE -- The Pentagon's top leader for the National Guard and Reserve said Saturday that employers will continue to lose workers to military missions, but should start getting more accurate and timely notice when it is going to happen.
"The whole utilization of the Guard and Reserve has changed dramatically,'' said Charles L. Cragin, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.
"When I'm talking to employers, I say, 'It's the same word, but it's pronounced differently. It's no longer the Reserve, that big force that you wait until the Russians come through the Fulda Gap and then you call up.
"'Now it's people who re-serve -- and re-serve on a fairly regular basis.'''
Cragin visited units Saturday at Scott Air Force Base. On Friday, he toured a unit in St. Louis and presented an award to the Ford Motor Co. plant for its support of the Guard and Reserve.
Keeping employers supportive as they lose workers more often and for longer periods is a major challenge that is not always met, he said.
For example, a National Guard division that recently took over peacekeeping operations in Bosnia knew about and trained for the mission for more than a year.
But many of the troops didn't receive their written orders until a week before leaving, making it difficult for them to organize their affairs and deal fairly with their employers.
Fixing such bureaucratic problems is one of his top priorities, Cragin said.
"Employers want the same thing that the men and women (in the reserves) want -- they want predictability,'' he said. "They want to know when their employee is leaving, and they'd like to know it with ample planning time. And they want to know when they're coming back. If you say you're coming back on Monday, they don't want you back on Wednesday. They need the predictability to plan their work force.''
Although the law requires employers to hold jobs for reservists and guardsmen called to active duty, many service members who drop out of the reserve forces cite job pressures as the reason.
The end of the Cold War and the shrinking of the active duty force has meant an ever-increasing role for the reserve components. Though the Reserves once were disparaged as "weekend warriors,'' today the active forces readily acknowledge that they cannot do their jobs without help from the reserves.
In fact, many specialized jobs now exist almost exclusively in the Reserves, such as civil affairs, psychological operations and mortuary services.
Since 1990, there have been five presidential call-ups of the Reserves, beginning with the Gulf War. Three of those call-ups still are in effect.
"For the last three years, this force has given about 13 million duty days per year, and it's a pretty steady state,'' Cragin said. "In contrast, 10 years ago, with 300,000 more people in the Guard and Reserve than currently, we were giving about 1 million duty days a year in contributory support.''
Because certain "high-demand, low-density'' units are being mobilized frequently, the Pentagon has been conducting a major study of how to redesign and restructure the Reserve components starting in 2005.
"We can't do anything in America today in America's military without relying on the total force,'' Cragin said. "And 50 percent of that total force -- in fact, in the Army 54 percent -- is in the Guard and Reserve.
"But we have to be able to take this national asset -- the men and women who serve in the Guard and Reserve -- and work cooperatively and collaboratively with their (civilian) employers.''
Originally Published, April 16, 2000 Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 2000, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
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