BY JOHN V. GREEN
South Carolina has done something remarkable in the last two years. In the fall of 2011, the unemployment rate of our state's National Guard Service members stood at a staggering 14 percent. Through a combination of government programming and private support, we've wrestled that figure down to 3.9 percent. It is a tremendous transformation, especially as the national unemployment rate for National Guard, and their fellow Citizen Warriors in the Reserve, remains at 11 percent.
But our state's good work cannot stop here. Now we must ensure our employers are providing these service members the ongoing support they will need as they continue to play a critical role in both combat and humanitarian operations. Members of the National Guard and Reserve are civilians who remain trained and ready to serve our nation. Their commitment means that they may be assigned to a year-long deployment in a war zone on the other side of the world, or called upon with little notice to respond to a domestic emergency.
Each time these citizen warriors answer the call to duty, they leave behind their families and friends, and their civilian jobs.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USSERA) was created to ensure Guard and Reserve members do not suffer employment setbacks because of their military service; the Act also contains protections for employers. USSERA cases are often used to measure the strength of the relationship between local employers and service members. According to the 2012 Year in Review from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) — the Department of Defense's lead on USERRA — 2,793 USSERA cases were filed last year, nationwide. This number has decreased two years running — another sign that our collective efforts are having a positive effect — yet we still have more work to do.
As a retired officer of the 315th Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve in Charleston and State Chair of the South Carolina ESGR committee, I've learned that many USERRA cases are rooted in a lack of understanding of the law rather than a lack of military support.
Many South Carolina employers offer shining examples of how to encourage Guard and Reserve employees. In fact, 59 South Carolina National Guard and Reserve members nominated their employers for the 2013 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the DoD's highest recognition for supportive Reserve Component employers. Employers nominated for this honor go to such lengths to show their support as arranging child care for deployed employees, cooking meals for their families and taking care of their homes while they are away, and setting veteran hiring goals.
Employing a member of the Guard and Reserve can present some challenges. Employers must remain flexible and adapt to training schedules and lengthy deployments. Yet the vast majority of military employers find that the benefits of hiring a Guardsmen or Reservists far outweigh the occasional inconvenience. Guard and Reserve Service members are tested leaders with integrity and global perspective. They are well trained in their professions, which include agriculture, engineering, law, medicine, transportation and logistics. And they have performed these professions in the toughest environments, under the most challenging circumstances.
For employers looking to strengthen their military hiring and employment practices, South Carolina ESGR provides free resources, training and mediation for Guardsmen, Reservists and their employers.
We appreciate that both our citizen warriors and those who employ them are critical to protecting our nation.
Our state should take pride in the actions we are taking to lower Guard and Reserve unemployment. Let us then forge ahead in finding ways to continue that tremendous support once our service members are back in the workforce, as together, we all serve.
John V. Green is the state chair of South Carolina Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense operational committee.