Changes to the Army National Guard are resulting in more days that soldiers are away from home for training and deployment.
A Department of Defense agency known as Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is reaching out to local employers to help them understand the changes, which mean that in some years soldiers will be required to train for at least 63 days instead of 39.
“Right here in Hermiston, it’s very important because of the increased tempo of training that we have a good relationship with employers, because they take part of that heat when soldiers are gone,” said Jack Johnson, area chairman for ESGR.
Johnson said the all-volunteer ESGR helps with outreach to employers and has ombudsman power to work through “misunderstandings of the law” surrounding duties to employees who are in the National Guard or the reserves for other military branches.
Since the National Guard was created in 1903, Johnson said, to replace the state-by-state militia system, federal law said soldiers in the Guard must train at least 39 days a year and could only be deployed by the federal government for war (the governor, on the other hand, can utilize Guard units to respond to natural disasters).
That has usually been accomplished with drills one weekend a month and for two weeks during the summer. But in 2016 the law was amended so that the president could mobilize Guard units to non-combat situations. In response, Johnson said, a new “National Guard 4.0” was implemented, creating a four-year training cycle for many units that includes a standard 39-day training minimum in the first year, a 54-day minimum the second, 60 in the third and 63 days in the fourth year, with units also more likely to deploy and on shorter notice than in the past.
In practice, said local battalion commander Major J.W. Lundell, that means a “weekend” training will sometimes be Thursday through Sunday instead of Saturday and Sunday, requiring days off work for some soldiers. It also means a four-week training period in the summer, although Lundell said they are trying locally where possible to break it up into two separate two-week periods.
“What we’ve gotten back (from employers) is that they can handle an employee being gone for a two-week timeframe, but any more than that is hard,” he said.
Next year, however, the 62-person Hermiston unit will be required to spend a 30-day training period in Fort Irwin, California.
“There’s nothing I can do about that,” he said.
The Guard operates on a “year” that runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, so in order to help local employers out Lundell said he is trying to get the next year’s training schedule directly to local employers of soldiers by June or July. Hermiston-area employers of soldiers — who range from Auto Zone to Subway to the Hermiston School District — will also have opportunities to visit the base in Idaho by helicopter while their employees are training there in order to have a better understanding of what they do.
Jerry Carlson, the Hermiston-based military outreach coordinator for ESGR, said soldiers are also being encouraged to nominate their employers for ESGR-sponsored awards for being supportive of their service in the National Guard or other military reserves.
Last week no employers showed up for an informational meeting at the Hermiston armory, but Carlson said it was too far for some employers, who live as far away as Portland and the Tri-Cities, and noted that his one-on-one conversations with employers have gone well. Carlson, Lundell and Johnson said while there are cases for the ESGR to mediate on the east side of the state, it was very rare for an Eastern Oregon employer to be anything but highly supportive of their employees who have to leave for days, weeks or even months at a time for trainings and deployments. In some cases, Johnson said, employers even go the extra mile by doing things like continuing health insurance for the soldier’s family while they are on a lengthy deployment overseas.
“You would be surprised by how supportive many of them are,” he said.