Five Important Things To Remember When Employing a Guardsman/Reservist by Brian Watterson
Here comes summer! With the season comes all those events that remind us all of just how patriotic America can be: Memorial Day, Independence Day, parades, fireworks, festivals. All of these great spectacles that celebrate the efforts and sacrifices of brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and civilian leaders throughout American history. If America has proven one thing throughout its proud history, it’s that we ain’t afraid to stand up and fight for what we value!
This particular post is geared towards the Civilian Soldier component of the American military, the Reservist and National Guardsman…the Minuteman! Throughout our history, the Guard and Reserves have played a vital part in our military’s story, both foreign and domestic. The Reserve Component has amazing legacy, as historians will quickly point out that elements of the Army National Guard actually hold lineage that pre-dates the Army itself! Google it if you don’t believe me. Through the centuries, our reservists have been called upon to support a myriad of operations, from engaging in actual warfare, to peacekeeping operations, to disaster relief and humanitarian efforts, to security augmentation, to infrastructure building, both stateside and in emerging nations. You name it, and they’ve probably done it. In my mind, our reservists are the world’s good guys.
The principle attribute of a civilian solider is in the name. He or she is someone who has willingly chosen to follow dual paths, both as a soldier and as participating member of civilian employment. Now comes the challenge, because this employment relationship can be tricky, for both the soldier AND the employer. It can also be highly rewarding for both parties. As an business owner who has employed reservists and as a retired officer from the Army National Guard, I clearly understand both sides of the relationship. Soldiers can make damn fine employees, but the employment climate needs to be correct, and a lot of that comes with just a basic understanding. Hopefully this post can heighten that understanding. So, here are my top five things to consider when employing a civilian soldier. NOTE: when I refer to “reservists”, I am referencing members of the National Guard AND members of the Reserves.
5. Time, Baby, Time. Remember the old slogan “just one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer?” Throw it away. In the post 9/11 world, the operational tempo (“OPTEMPO”) is increasingly high. Reservists could easily be on duty for an additional dozen days, or more, over the old model. Just something to consider, not just for mitigating potential work conflicts, but also for understanding how little free time your civilian soldier actually enjoys.
4. They Have a Life. It’s really easy to typecast someone, right? I love being a soldier, but I also love listening to Pearl Jam, taking in a Broadway show, or enjoying a novel about the evils of war. What??? Soldiers are always supposed to be like Sergeant York or General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, right? Nope, not always. Think about it, at his/her base core, a civilian soldier has to be a diverse, complex person. How else could they thrive in both worlds? Reducing a civilian soldier to a narrow focused war buff who probably keeps the latest copy of Soldier of Fortune magazine in a desk drawer, and plays Band of Brothers on a constant loop, is a disservice to both you and your employee. We are normal folks, just like you. Reservists aren’t going to harsh any vibes in the breakroom with their warmongering, in fact, under most circumstances, they may add new perspectives and points of view. That said, most of us can readily quote lines from Band of Brothers…
3. Lost in Translation. One of the time honored questions regarding hiring a veteran is “how will his/her skills translate?” We’ve all seen the early 90’s commercial where the apple pie faced young soldier sits in an operations center and proclaims “the Army paid me to learn about computers!”. Ok, sure, the military has numerous vocations such as IT, HR, linguistics, medical, and logistics, that have a direct correlation to civilian positions. Many military jobs, however, do not have that straight line to a civilian counterpart. Like most businesses, NCI doesn’t have many tank driver or nuclear missile warhead repair technician job openings these days. So what skills and experiences do the soldiers bring to the table? Well, there are many, if we look beyond the actual military job title. Leadership, problem solving, team building, and ethics are all attributes that a soldier can bring. Reservists and Guardsmen are hard workers, with their typical work day being 10+ hours. Most reservists are great outside-the-box thinkers, and they are generally adept at creative solutions. Soldiers have been doing “more with less”, or shall we say “MacGyvering”, for a very long time, and any small business owner knows that this is a skill that can translate into money in the bank.
2. That Day May Come. It’s the D word. The word that every soldier and his/her employer and family must be ready for. Deployment. The day when the world tells the soldier that something is messed up, somewhere, so pack your bags, kiddo. It happened to me a week before I was to be married, but that’s a completely different story. The take home message here is that deployments will come, it’s just a matter of time. It’s what Reserve Component units train for. Reservists and their employers need to be prepared for this event. If everyone is prepared and understands the process, it could be a manageable event, both for mobilization and for post-deployment augmentation back into the workplace. If you are not prepared, then I assure you, heartache awaits. There are numerous agencies and websites dedicated to helping and coaching employers during deployments. In the end of the day, the deployment should be an act of patriotism by BOTH the employee and employer. It should be a source of pride, not a point of stress or division.
1. Ask Them. I was recently at dinner with a friend and co-worker who remarked that I don’t talk much about my military time. I think, in my case, I’m just a dude who doesn’t bring it up a lot, unless asked. Some soldiers are like this, some are much more guarded, while some are very vocal about their time. Nearly all soldiers possess volumes of stories and experiences that they would love to share. Just ask them their story. If they don’t want to talk about it, they won’t. In most cases, they will. It’s easy to buy a beer for a guy in uniform, or give up a seat on a plane for a soldier returning home. If you ask me, I think the highest form of flattery a soldier can get is just an opportunity to talk about their efforts. The number one reason why men and women join the Armed Forces is to contribute to a greater cause. Our soldiers are in that select group of people who were brave enough to raise their hand and say that they are willing to die for their fellow man and woman. Shouldn’t you be proud to employ a guy or gal like that, and shouldn’t you want your other employees to learn more about them? Ask.
That’s it in a nutshell. Now, since Memorial Day awaits, I will crack open a cold beer and raise a toast to those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Their bravery helped our fine country define itself, and should NEVER be forgotten or minimized. I’d like to dedicate this particular post to all of my brothers and sisters in arms. Happy Memorial Day, everyone!
Brian S. Watterson