WASHINGTON – With the end of conscription looming in the United States, leaders knew the nation would rely more often on the National Guard and Reserves.
They knew moving from a strategic to an operational reserve would impact troops’ employers.
So, in 1972, the program now called Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve was born. Defense, military, civilian and ESGR leaders celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Pentagon ceremony June 22.
“The strong and continued support of our nation’s employers is probably more important now than it’s ever been,” said Ronald Bogle, ESGR’s national chair.
The Defense Department established ESGR, and President Richard Nixon appointed its first chair, representing a major employer, General Motors Corporation. GM signed the first “Statement of Support,” an employer pledge to support Guardsmen and Reservists in their military duties.
In the half-century since, hundreds of thousands of employers have followed suit, Bogle said.
Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, gave the audience a powerful example of why employer support is so important: Reach 824.
Reach 824 was the call sign for an Air Force crew that flew into Kabul, Afghanistan, during Operation Allies Refuge last year with low fuel, no air traffic control, blackout conditions, and the threat of Taliban fire.
The crew delivered a human and equipment payload to help evacuate Americans. Later, they transported the remains of the 13 service members killed at Kabul Airport out of the country. Hokanson presented them the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Valor earlier this month.
“Every member of Reach 824 was a traditional, drill-status Guardsman,” Hokanson said. “They balanced civilian careers … with their military service. They were heroes who were also airline pilots for Delta and United, law enforcement officers for the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and the NYPD, and they worked in materials science for IBM.”
Guardsmen and Reservists have been continuously deployed, overseas and at home, for 30 years. And about 70,000 people enlisted in the National Guard and Reserves in the year following the 9/11 attacks, ESGR officials said, highlighting the continued need for employer support.
Volunteers – some 3,000 of them nationwide – are critical to ESGR’s success, said Navy Capt. Robert Underhill, executive director, ESGR. They collectively donate more than 200,000 hours each year – and some have done so for decades.
Kimball Firestone is an example. He was one of the original 20 committee members who founded ESGR. And the grandson of the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was on stage at the Pentagon Auditorium today, 50 years on.
What motivated him to stay involved for a half-century? “Feeling that I was doing something useful for my country,” he said.
Today, Guardsmen and Reservists form an operational force, making a vital contribution to the Total Force and to America’s National Defense Strategy, said the Hon. Gilbert Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
ESGR’s programs include providing volunteer ombudsmen who help resolve issues between troops and employers — a free service to both.
The organization also recognizes employers with an annual awards program and transports employers to military training sites to see firsthand what their employees do in their military capacities, among other initiatives.
The program strengthens civilian-military bonds and has helped increase employer understanding of the benefits of hiring service members, which has active-duty members transitioning to civilian life, in addition to ESGR’s core mission helping the Guard and Reserve, officials said.