Colleen Trout has volunteered hundreds of hours to help our Nation’s Guard and Reserve members for one big reason: She feels deeply grateful for their service and sacrifices.
“I feel strongly about this because I could not do what they did,’’ said Trout.
Trout, a former telecommunications services manager from Safety Harbor, Fla., is one of about 4,500 dedicated volunteers with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). The Department of Defense program has committees in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.
Since 1972, ESGR has worked to build cooperation between Guard and Reserve members and civilian employers, helping to resolve work-related problems stemming from an employee’s military commitments.
These citizen warriors “have earned the right to have a good job and be treated well and have their families treated well,” Trout said. “They deserve our respect.’’
Volunteers come from all walks of life. Trout, 52, uses her skills stemming from a career with companies like Sprint and Pacific Bell.
Her efforts – like those of many volunteers – are wide-ranging. They include meeting one-on-one with Service members about job opportunities, giving presentations about ESGR, and nominating and presenting outstanding employers with Patriot Awards for their support.
ESGR volunteers can be crucial to bridging the gap between the military and civilian employers who may not be aware of Federal laws regarding the rights of Guard and Reserve members.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, protects Service members from being discriminated against because of their military duties, such as being away for monthly or annual training. ESGR provides free ombudsman services through highly-trained volunteers to address conflicts and resolve them as quickly as possible. More than three-quarters of cases are resolved in fewer than 14 days from an inquiry into the system.
Both employers and Service members often need more information on what the law covers. Often, issues can be resolved through educating employers and without filing formal complaints, Trout said.
For example, Trout recently met with Reservists from a Marine battalion in Tampa and informally explained the rights and responsibilities of Guardsmen and Reservists.
“I want to meet people where they are to address their needs and concerns,” she said.
Trout also attends Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) events to meet with Service members and their families. YRRP is a Department of Defense program that supports families and Service members before, during, and after deployments.
Trout often gives presentations about ESGR in front of hundreds at YRRP events, then sets up a table in the halls where Service members and spouses can stop by for help and advice. She said a majority of the questions deal with a need for a job, a better job, or with problems with employers who do not understand what the law covers.
She brings a laptop computer and may forward a resume to a potential employer while the Service member is standing there.
“ESGR works because of personal networks where we introduce employers to Service members,’’ Trout said. “Part of what I do is help employers who do not have a military background understand the skills and values that [Guard and Reserve members] bring to an employer.”
“I truly think they are twice the citizen,’’ Trout added, noting that men and woman who serve in the Guard and Reserve give up weekends and, in many cases, months of their time to serve their country. Civilian employers don’t always fully understand such commitments, which is why she reaches out to the business community and gives presentations on USERRA.
Trout and other volunteers are also invaluable in nominating supportive employers for Patriot Awards. Trout and her husband, Roger, a longtime Army Reservist and ESGR training director in Florida, often make surprise visits to workplaces to present Patriot Awards.
Volunteers also attend job fairs and Chamber of Commerce events to reach out to potential employers and spread the word about ESGR and the benefits of hiring Guard members and Reservists.
“The need is great,” Trout said of why ESGR can always use more volunteers.
Trout loves her work and encourages others to volunteer because they can truly make a difference. She recalled a recent email that made her day. It was from a Marine Reservist thanking her for showing up every weekend to help his unit.
“We need to let them know we’ve got them covered,’’ Trout said. “We are serving those who are serving.’’