Puerto Rico hosts first IRR muster outside CONUS
April 28, 2010
FORT BUCHANAN, Puerto Rico (April 20, 2010) -- After completing a 16-month mobilization and one-year tour to Iraq in 2007, Spc. Juan J. Perez figured he should say goodbye to his wife and three kids again when he was invited to attend an Individual Ready Reserve muster.
But after signing in, Perez quickly realized he was not being mobilized for another combat tour. Instead, he and other IRR Soldiers spent the day recently updating their records and learning about their benefits and entitlements, including promotion, schooling, health care and civilian job opportunities.
"One of our biggest challenges is ensuring that Soldiers understand this is a muster, not a mobilization," said Lt. Col. Craig Smith, Human Resources Command's muster team chief. "We do not mobilize Soldiers at musters. We are here to ensure Soldiers are getting registered for the benefits they have earned. The VA, the Army, and service organizations have more to offer than most Soldiers can even begin to realize."
In fact, 17 veteran support agencies attended the Puerto Rico muster to talk about their services and tell Soldiers about opportunities that could benefit them and their families. Musters have come to resemble career and education fairs with "vendor" booths set up between the muster stations.
"The muster program gives us the chance to collect required information from our IRR Soldiers, but it also gives them a chance to learn about the services and benefits available to them," Smith said. "A lot of opportunities can open up for them through either more active IRR participation, membership in a Reserve unit, or volunteering to mobilize in support of overseas contingency operations. We are giving the IRR Soldiers the tools to make an informed decision and help them determine what works for them."
Thousands of IRR Soldiers will muster in 19 cities from January to August 2010. The Puerto Rico muster represents the first muster to be held outside the contiguous states. It's an expansion of a successful program that began in 2007 with just four musters.
"The team is venturing outside the continental United States this year for the first time because we realized it was important to offer our services to those Soldiers as well," Smith said, adding that overseas musters are planned in the future.
A Soldier typically becomes a member of the IRR after successfully completing several years of active-duty or Selected Reserve membership. Soldiers may transfer to the IRR to fulfill the remainder of their contractual military service obligation, normally eight years.
An annual requirement, mustering is a one-day event for which IRR Soldiers are paid about $200. Many IRR Soldiers will complete a Personnel Accountability Muster, which is a one-on-one visit with an Army Reserve Career Counselor. But several thousand Soldiers will gather at group events called Readiness Musters, such as the one held at Fort Buchanan.
Last year, HRC partnered with Veterans Affairs to hold five Readiness Musters at VA facilities, which proved such a successful venture that nine Readiness Musters will be held at VA facilities this year, with the remaining musters conducted on Army posts and Army Reserve centers.
Readiness Musters have not only increased in number but in scope and services offered, as the IRR Soldiers mustering at Fort Buchanan learned.
One of the first individuals to arrive at the muster site was Johnny Dwiggins with the Armed Forces Employer Partnership - formerly called the Army Reserve Employer Partnership Initiative. Dwiggins said the organization partners with more than 900 public and private-sector employers and attempts to match the needs of the employers with Soldiers in thousands of job opportunities.
"The Soldiers already have many of the skill sets the employers are looking for and already meet many of the job requirements," Dwiggins said. "The partners are eager to hire the Soldiers because of their experience and qualifications."
Spc. Maria Sepulveva was pleasantly surprised to meet Mr. Dwiggins; she thought she would just be completing paperwork at the muster.
"There were a lot of job opportunities that we were told about and how to go to the Web site to find out more," she said.
A former National Guard member, Sepulveva was also excited to learn that IRR Soldiers can go to schools, get promoted and volunteer for active-duty tours.
"I would tell other IRR Soldiers in my situation that they should come to the muster with questions and find out about the benefits of being an IRR Soldier," Sepulveva said.
HRC partnered with the 81st Regional Support Command and the 1st Mission Support Command to support the muster and coordinate the effort to bring 17 service agencies to Fort Buchanan for the day.
Lt. Col. Gayle Scott and Sgt. 1st Class Beverly Robinson, of the 81st Soldier Readiness Processing Team, were praised by Maj. Gerald Bradford, HRC Muster Team operations officer. "The 81st SRP Team personnel were professional and they catered to the needs of the IRR Soldiers," he noted. "They also assisted IRR Soldiers' family members who attended the muster by answering their questions and provided them with information that would be of help to them during the time their servicemember is serving in the IRR."
Others singled out for recognition were Capt. Domingo Cartagena of the 1st MSC and Master Sgt. Madeline Santiago, area leader for Army Reserve Careers Division Region 5, who assisted in coordinating with local agencies to send representatives to the muster "and were a major reason that the event was a success," said Bradford.
"It has been awesome to help all of these Soldiers - to bring them together to find out all of the benefits that they can receive," said Santiago, who is responsible for 11 career counselors in Puerto Rico. "Our goal was for all of the IRR Soldiers to make contact with the career counselors. I wanted the IRR Soldiers to know from the counselors all of the benefits that are out there for them."
Army Reserve Career Counselor Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Almodovar said many of the issues he dealt with were medical concerns of the Soldiers and he ensured they received attention from the medical personnel at the muster. Many of the repeated comments he heard from the Soldiers included, "Nobody told me I could have an ID card, or that I could get promoted, or that I could shop in the post exchange or commissary."
The IRR Soldiers also learned about the benefits of transferring to the Selected Reserve, such as the opportunity to enroll in health, dental and life insurance plans. In the last three years, 7,195 IRRs transferred to the Selected Reserve through the IRR Muster Program.
Almodovar stressed how important it is for IRR Soldiers to keep their contact information up-to-date. "For someone to miss everything here today because we didn't have a good address or phone number is too bad."
After his medical screening, Perez said he was particularly glad he'd attended the muster. "The medical screening helped me learn that I had high blood pressure and now I can get additional medical treatment and take care of it," he said. The VA staff on site also helped him register and learn more about benefits available such as home loans, he said.
Sgt. Johnny Quiles previously attended a one-on-one Personnel Accountability Muster with a career counselor and said the thought of being mobilized didn't go through his mind when he was scheduled to attend the Readiness Muster at Fort Buchanan. One of the many benefits the former active-duty Soldier and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran said he discovered at the muster was that, as an IRR Soldier, he remained eligible to use the post exchange and commissary. Quiles' military obligation ends next year, but as a husband and father of two girls, he said he plans to remain in the IRR because of his family.
The Army continues to evaluate and change the muster format to provide more services to the Soldiers and enhance the value of the experience. Smith says he would tell Soldiers unable to attend a muster that they are missing out on one of the best opportunities the Army has to offer.
"Mustering is a great return on investment for Soldiers. On top of the opportunity to enroll for VA health care, hear about public and private-sector jobs, and get connected with veteran support agencies, Soldiers receive a $200 stipend for completing muster duty," Smith said.
IRR Soldiers seeking additional information about the muster program may contact the Muster Team at 877-303-2400.
For more information about U.S. Army Human Resources Command, visit www.hrc.army.mil
(Master Sgt. Brian Kappmeyer writes for U.S. Army Human Resources Command Public Affairs.)