Army Reserve, Berks County leaders hold inaugural town hall meeting
January 21, 2013
READING, Pa. -- Army Reserve commanders based here hosted their inaugural town hall meeting Thursday to connect with community leaders and to facilitate a discussion in meeting the needs of Citizen-Soldiers in the Berks County area.
Reserve Soldiers have a limited obligation to the Army that requires them to serve only one weekend a month and attend an annual training exercise over a two-week period. Unlike active duty service members, unless deployed overseas, Reserve Soldiers spend most of their time as civilians. This requires Soldiers to carefully balance their civilian lives with the commitments they have as both a civilian and as a Soldier.
"We have to connect with the communities that we are part of to provide Soldiers with resources that will make them successful in both our military and their civilian worlds. Connecting with local leaders is one of my top priorities," said Maj. Mary Olodun, town hall event primary organizer and commander of 326th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 314th Public Affairs Operation Center, 412th Theater Engineer Command.
One of those resources is employment as many of the Soldiers at the Reading Reserve Center struggle with unemployment or underemployment.
State Sen. Judy Schwank was present at the meeting and spoke openly about the employment issues facing Reserve Soldiers and veterans abroad.
"Post-9/11 veterans from ages 20 to 24, experience an unemployment rate of 28%," said Schwank.
She commended Olodun and the other two commanders based at the Reading Reserve Center, Capt. Edger Borgella, commander of 733rd Transportation Company, and 1st Lt. Rebecca Wilson, commander of 333rd Engineer Company, on their efforts to help Soldiers to stay well integrated in the local community.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Dr. Daniel Bulinski, Governor Mifflin School District Superintendent, along with Veterans Affairs public relations, non-profit business owner, Elizabeth Graybill, and a host of other community leaders were in attendance, as they listened to the needs of Soldiers and discussed how they may play a role in helping then find their place as citizens of their community.
Schwank said she is looking forward to the challenge of helping veterans, in her capacity as a member of the Senate Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee. One initiative of this committee is the Pennsylvania Military Family Relief Assistance Program.
"It provides financial assistance, in the form of grants, to eligible Pennsylvania military service members and their family members up to $3,500," said Schwank.
There were huge take-aways from this town hall meeting including plans for a veterans job fair either at the center or at one of the Governor Mifflin Schools, which are in walking distance to the center. Graybill agreed to providing a VA helpdesk with a live representative during weekends when most if the 300 plus Soldiers of the Reading Reserve Center are present. Olodun suggested creating a Soldier's pantry at the center after Graybill spoke of regular drop offs of free food, clothing and gas cards for their Soldiers. Finally, Schwank spoke of organizing a community farewell event to salute the 333rd EN CO as they depart for Afghanistan this spring.
Olodun attributed the success of today's town hall meeting to the support of the Army Reserve from local leaders. Olodun also said many of the resources are already available for Soldiers and their Families to be successful, but more bridges need to be built between the Army and our communities to bring awareness to Soldiers, and to help community leaders who are trying to reach our Soldiers.
"The key to making this town hall meeting successful and meaningful is by building on it, institutionalizing our efforts and ensuring our community leaders are a part of encouraging our Soldiers and veterans in need.
"These community leaders know that freedom isn't free," said Olodun. "They support the people they owe for their freedom. And it reflects in their attendance during Thursday's inaugural town hall meeting."