Reservists and their families deserve help at call-up

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From one viewpoint, it is the day the men and women reservists have been waiting for. From another viewpoint, it is the day they have dreaded.

Many people fail to appreciate the life-juggling that goes on when military reservists or National Guard troops are called into duty.

"It's an impact that stretches through an individual's entire life," says Air Force Maj. Robert Palmer of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. "It's a disruption to one's life and one's family. Most people have no idea how many ways they will be affected."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 550,000 reservists have been activated for overseas assignments, Palmer says.

Most reservists have jobs, and forsaking them to answer the call to duty can become a financial issue. A 2004 Department of Defense study estimated that 51 percent of reservists take a pay cut when they report for duty.

Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, employers are required to guarantee continued employment to reservists who are called to military duty and are prohibited from discriminating against them.

The federal law, however, has no provision to protect salaries and benefits for activated workers.

BAE Systems, a defense contractor with 40,000 workers in the United States, has a large number of reservists among its work force. At one point last year, the company had 85 reservists on active duty.

"We're in the defense business and want to be sensitive to these individuals," says John Kowalczyk, director of communications for BAE. "We support our reservist employees when they are recalled to serve because it is the right thing to do for our company and country."

BAE's San Diego Ship Repair, which has had numerous reservists called up from its 800-member work force, makes up the difference between military and civilian pay for all employees called to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"From a pay and benefits standpoint, it's complete accommodation," Kowalczyk says. "Their families are covered just as if they were still working for us."

BAE isn't alone.

General Motors, Sears, United Parcel Service and Ford Motor Co. are among those with similar programs.

Reservists rank income loss as the fourth-biggest obstacle to staying in the reserves - trailing family burdens, deployment frequency and deployment length.

"It's things like making up lost pay that make a difficult job of fighting for your country a little easier," says Palmer, whose organization is operated by the Department of Defense to promote cooperation and understanding between reservists and their civilian employers.

"When someone is called into duty, their family may have to change their child-care plans, they may have additional costs for various things, or they may have to pay more just to communicate," Palmer says. "But when you are fighting for your country, you shouldn't have to worry about how your family is going to pay the mortgage."

He says employers like BAE discover that going the extra mile to help reservists is a good human capital strategy because it creates goodwill and loyalty toward the company.

BAE's Kowalczyk says: "Our approach benefits the employee because it gives them one less thing to worry about during a stressful time. They know their families are taken care of while they serve their country."

© Copley News Service

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