A coordinated terrorist attack occurred in Brussels last week, shaking the core of the European Union. This follows similar atrocities in Turkey, Syria, France, the Ivory Coast, and here in the United States.
By M. Alex Baird, Director of Family and Employer Programs and Policy
If there’s one thing we should take to heart, it’s this: life can turn on a dime.
But this is nothing new for Guard and Reserve Service members. At any moment, they can be tagged for mobilization, and their lives can take a sudden and unpredictable turn. Yet, it’s what they train and prepare for. Also, it’s the environment we have been operating under consistently for more than fifteen years.
More than 920,000 Guardsmen and Reservists have deployed since 9/11, and nearly 25,000 Guard and Reserve Service members are currently mobilized around the world. Deployments haven’t stopped for the Reserve Components, and it’s unlikely they will. In fact, the opposite is true: Guard and Reserve deployments will most likely increase in the coming years.
In the past few weeks, the Army has asked Congress to nearly double the funding for involuntary mobilizations. If the proposed budget for 2017 is passed, we may see a doubling of mobilizations of Guardsmen and Reservists. These additional deployments by the Reserve Components will offset readiness strains within the active duty force and support combatant commands with emerging missions across the world.
These facts shows us that the National Guard and Reserve are continuing to be relied upon—now more than ever—as we transition from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and face increasing active duty force reductions.
This is exactly why we talk about readiness so often. It’s not just a buzzword; it’s an axiom, a drumbeat, and a new normal. We use the word to communicate the capability and necessity of our military to deploy when they are needed during prolonged conflict.
But, what is readiness? It means a lot of different things depending on whom you ask.
One form of readiness is portrayed in our Guardsmen and Reservists, who can be called on to mobilize by the thousands at the drop of a hat. No one can predict when the next disaster will occur, intentional or not. This uncertainty requires the Guard and Reserve to be well-equipped, administratively prepared, and properly manned with trained, combat-ready personnel to support whatever mission comes their way.
And in another sense, we talk about the readiness of the Service members as it relates to their families, their employers, and their communities. If those aspects of Service members’ lives are out of balance, they aren’t ready to deploy or focus on their mission.
This is where the Guard and Reserve Support Network comes into play.
We’re not just making sure Guard and Reserve Service members are financially, legally, physically, and psychologically ready, but that their families and employers are, as well. If the Service members are facing problems in any of these areas, or if they have conflict in their relationships with their families and employers, they risk being unable to deploy and support missions at home and abroad.
Mobilizations put a heavy strain on families, and we’re just beginning to fully understand and address the problems deployments have on marriages, children, and psychological health. Families need to know what to expect, know the resources available to them, and have access to the support they need to weather the challenges they face when their loved ones are deployed and when they return. This is why we push for Service members and their families to attend our Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events.
Simultaneously, employers of Guard and Reserve Service members need to be aware of upcoming mobilizations, employment rights and obligations of Service members, and the responsibilities they have as part of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
Our employers have been stalwart supporters of our Guard and Reserve Service members. They make sure that when our members deploy and come back, they return to their civilian jobs, helping to ensure a smooth transition for the Service member and their family before and after deployment.
This is why Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve exists and why more than 4,500 volunteers work with, mediate between, and recognize the outstanding support employers provide to the Reserve Components. (If you haven’t seen the finalists for the 2016 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom award, see them here.)
But, our support network is only as successful as the partnerships we build at the local, state, and national levels to provide services and support to all corners of the nation. We collaborate with a host of veterans’ organizations and other agencies, including the Department of Labor, Military OneSource, Veterans Affairs, and the Military Family Learning Network to reach folks where they live. Together, we provide support to more than 800,000 Guard and Reserve members, their families, and employers.
Whether you’re an employer, a partner, a child, a service provider, or a friend, you, too, can be a part of the Guard and Reserve Support Network.
Take a look at our resources online. Become a volunteer. Share information about our upcoming events and award ceremonies. Help us ensure the Guard and Reserve community is prepared and ready.
Because it can all turn on a dime.
Mr. M. Alex Baird is the Director of Family and Employer Programs and Policy, an office dedicated to developing and promoting programs and policies that address all family and employer issues for members of the National Guard and Reserve. Programs include: Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, Service Member and Family Readiness, and the Employment Initiative Program.