Tag Archives: National Guard

Employment and the National Guard

September 17, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Rare is the job today with simple, fixed 9-to-5 hours and weekends off. Many jobs require a laptop, and it is usually a given that the machine will be joining its owner on off-hours and weekends. It is part of modern work life.  

However, for the approximate 4,500 members of the Nebraska National Guard, this reality comes with its own dilemma: How can you be two places at once when your National Guard duty calls?

The answer is simple: you cannot. One weekend a month and two weeks a year, service members are required to attend training (or “drill”) at the National Guard. Most employers are familiar with the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” obligation. But that obligation is due to increase. In February, the military announced their Army Guard 4.0 initiative, which focuses on readiness for fast deployment. The new model calls for an increase in the number of days spent in training, up to 60 days per year, starting with armored and Stryker brigade combat teams. This change in training philosophy will eventually affect many, if not all, units.

Additionally, National Guard members have their own responsibilities to their employers. They must give their employer written or verbal notification before their deployment. The time requirements for this can vary, as deployments are sometimes sudden. When a member returns from deployment, they must alert their employer of their intention to return to their job. If a deployment is between 31 to 180 days, National Guard members are given 14 days to reapply for their job after they return home. If their deployment is greater than 180 days, they are given 90 days to reapply for their job. 

And those who serve in the National Guard need outside jobs. The official National Guard website calculates that the highest ranking officer, with 20 years of service, can make $15,736.84 annually. The lowest ranking enlistee, with one year of service, can make $3,385.82 annually.

By law, employers have to accommodate their employees who serve in the National Guard. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which was signed into law in 1994, states that employers must allow National Guard members to serve their duty, and must not force them to resign from the National Guard. They cannot ask a Guard member to use their vacation time for a training session. Additionally, public employers must pay military differential pay. Private employers are not required to pay this. If a member is deployed, the employer must retain that person’s job when they return from their deployment. If they cannot give their job back to an employee, they must find a job that is similar to the one he or she left when they were called to duty. 

Many employers are familiar with the USERRA law, and comply. However, there are some exceptions. The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) reported that four cases in Nebraska were filed by Nebraska National Guard service members in the 2018 fiscal year. The four cases involved concerns over “military obligation discrimination.” 

These days, many companies produce long-range team projects as opposed to daily production work. The idea that someone might leave at a moment’s notice may make a team lead hesitate to put someone serving in the National Guard in charge of a project. But rest assured, help is available if this situation arises. A good source for employees in this instance is a staffing agency.

“What normally happens is we get a call for a project manager or something,” says Jim Taylor, franchise owner of Snelling Staffing in Omaha. “We’ll know if it’s a short term or not. It very well could be the reason why there’s an opening is that the person is overseas, but we don’t specifically ask why.”

Taylor’s employees at the staffing agency receive the request, find prospective employees from among their clients, and fill the request. 

William Harris is a lawyer at Berry Law Firm. He also acts as defense counsel for National Guard members. Harris has been in the military for almost 20 years, serving four years of active duty in the Air Force, and 15 years as a National Guard member. Even with a lofty legal title, Harris isn’t immune to the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” requirement. Harris says his biggest challenge is juggling the demands of both jobs. 

“Even though we’re part-time soldiers, there’s certain rules and regulations you still have to abide by,” Harris says. 

In addition to his civilian lawyer title, Harris is also a Justice Advocate General (JAG) officer. National Guard members can consult their local JAG officers on legal issues, free of charge. In his 15 years with the National Guard, Harris says he’s only had to handle about three employment-related complaints. None of the complaints involved the loss of a job or denied promotion. Instead, the issues were mainly questions employers had about USERRA law. Harris says most of the protections within USERRA are known to employers. 

“It’s pretty user-friendly if you read it,” Harris says. 

This means the temporary employee hired to help for six months will most likely be moving on afterwards. That doesn’t necessarily mean a temporary employee will not be a great employee.

“I’ve owned this franchise for seven or eight years, and I was under the impression that a small percentage of people would want to do temporary assignments,” Taylor says. “That’s not true. There’s a whole range of people wanting to do temp work, for a variety of reasons: It’s good exposure. Some people get bored early, so they want a different adventure every six months. We have some clients that have been in the temp world for 10 years.”

There are instances when a temp employee may be a better worker than the full-time employee, but the employer cannot simply pass over the National Guard member once they return.

However, while USERRA protects National Guard members by ensuring their civilian job will be available to them when they return, it doesn’t entirely guarantee their job. If a company undergoes a restructuring where certain positions are eliminated, or a job is lost to automation, companies are still in their legal right to eliminate positions that may have National Guard members as employees. 

“If that type of job goes away, they can’t be forced to put them in a job that no longer exists,” Harris says.

Visit ne.ng.mil for more information on the Nebraska National Guard.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Cornhuskers Relieve Hurricane Catastrophes

May 16, 2018 by
Photography by provided by Nebraska National Guard

Like everyone who serves in the National Guard, Master Sgt. Matthew Jordan is accustomed to “the call” in all its variations. It could come in the form of a two-month advanced notice that he’ll be deployed to Afghanistan. Other times, the notice is far shorter. Last August, he was told to report for duty in one hour to respond to Hurricane Harvey.

Jordan was closely monitoring news reports as Labor Day was approaching. The hurricane made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25. Jordan was keeping in touch with his father, who decided to ride out the storm in his Houston home. His father’s home didn’t suffer much damage, and after a few days of not getting “the call,” Jordan and his wife were beginning to make plans for the long Labor Day weekend. On Thursday before the holiday, he heard his division would not be called up. The next day, while watching SportsCenter, his supervisor called him.

“I had to say goodbye to my kids on the phone, kiss my wife, and I was out the door,” Jordan says.

Last fall, the Nebraska National Guard was repeatedly called up to respond to hurricanes Harvey and Maria. Jordan was part of a 44-person medical team that was sent to Texas. The mission lasted about 10 days. For the first few days, Jordan says he braced himself to be called out on a mission that would never materialize.

“You get adrenaline, and that mission would fall apart,” Jordan says.

Jordan ended up staying in a hotel in Beaumont, Texas. He eventually moved to a church near the city of Vidor, which is located in extreme southeast Texas, close to the Louisiana border. Around the fifth day of his deployment, he finally got his orders: set up two tents and provide medical care to the storm victims.

Over two-and-a-half days, Jordan estimated his team treated about 180 patients. The majority of those were treated for pharmacy-related problems. Most of the pharmacies in the area were still shut down, and people were running out of their medications. Jordan was in charge of getting water and coordinating medical supply deliveries. During this time, he was running on about four hours of sleep a night.  Finding a place to shower was oftentimes a challenge because many places still didn’t have running water.

“It was so hot and humid. I cannot describe what an armpit that place was,” Jordan says.

During his mission, Jordan was stopped by a man who had just moved to Beaumont from Chicago. The man had moved his wife and two children into a house two weeks before the hurricane hit town. His entire house had flooded, and his family was living out of his car.

“Helping him out meant the most,” Jordan says. “I felt really bad for him, because I have a wife and three kids.”

The National Hurricane Center estimates that at least 68 people died in Texas due to Harvey. The conservative death toll for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico stands at 64, but there are estimates that hundreds of people have lost their lives from that storm’s aftereffects.

Capt. Cody Cade was deployed along with Staff Sgt. Koan Nissen to document the National Guard’s response to Maria in Puerto Rico. Like Jordan, Cade was called up quickly. He had just returned from a week of training in Fort Riley, Kansas.

“I literally walked through the door to my house, put my rucksack down on the floor, and the phone rang,” he says.

Cade and Nissen headed to Puerto Rico almost two months after the hurricane made landfall. When he arrived at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, Cade noticed most all of the airport’s ceiling tiles were missing from where he could see. He also noticed an exodus of people waiting to leave.

“It was just mass chaos,” Cade says. “There were thousands of people waiting to get on a plane.”

While thousands were still trying to leave, Cade and Nissen were going inland. In 28 days, the two interviewed 70 people, took about 2,000 photographs, and traveled almost 1,600 miles. While traveling, Cade says the roads were still filled with debris. In one case, his team came across a bridge that had been washed out. No one from the Army Corps of Engineers had yet identified the bridge was gone, Cade says.

Cade primarily stuck with interviewing National Guard members—one of whom had lost her niece, born prematurely shortly before Hurricane Maria hit. Then, she lost her grandfather from medical complications because of the storm. Her grandfather was recovering from a heart attack in a hospital. The hospital he was staying at had lost both its main power and backup generators.

“She had not taken any time off from the hurricane whatsoever,” Cade says.

All of Cade’s interviews are now at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington D.C. They will be transcribed, and later will be made into a book, detailing the relief efforts.

After returning to Nebraska, Cade says it felt like he was visiting another country: “It’s a shock to see a portion of the United States could be just devastated in such a manner. Stuff was just wiped off the face of the planet.”

He sees it as one big “family” coming together “to help our own.”

Visit ne.ng.mil for more information about the Nebraska National Guard.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Quartermaster Depot

January 8, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed by Wikimedia Commons

There is probably only one famous quartermaster in history: The character Q from the James Bond books and movies, currently played onscreen by Ben Whishaw as a bedheaded computer nerd, previous played as tweedy arms specialists by actors including Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese. Long John Silver, from the novel Treasure Island, was also a quartermaster, although the fact isn’t well-remembered.

Which makes the position of quartermaster sound somewhat marvelous, which it may be, but to simply describe the job sounds more quotidian: Quartermasters are responsible for distributing supplies and provisions in the military. There is an entire Quartermaster Corps in the U.S. Army, and besides general supplies, they are also responsible for Mortuary Affairs—identifying, transporting, and burying the deceased. The Quartermaster Corps actually predates the United States as it was established in 1775.

A grassy bit of train tracks runs through downtown, just off 13th Street, leading to part of this Corps legacy in Omaha: The Omaha Quartermaster Depot Historic District. This series of small, antiquated structures dates back to a rarely remembered Omaha institution: The Department of the Platte. Long headed by General George Crook, this department oversaw military support along the Oregon Trail and the building of the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1866, the Army built its first depot near 13th and Webster streets, nicknamed the Old Corral. Trains going from there took supplies up the Missouri River and transported them west.

The Old Corral quickly proved insufficient, and the current depot was built in 1879 in its current location at 22nd and Woolworth streets, which also became known as the Old Corral. Most of the buildings on the depot date back to 1886, and, amazingly, remain largely the same as when they were built. The depot provided supplies for the dwindling, tragic final years of the Indian Wars, culminating in the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.

After this the depot went largely unused until the United States involvement in World War I, when the depot was responsible for moving enormous amounts of supplies. The site’s application for the National Registry of Historic Places estimates that during the 18 months of the war, about 278 million pounds of supplies passed through the depot.

The Quartermaster Depot has been offered for sale many times over its history. After World War I, it was unsuccessfully put on the auction block in both 1927 and 1932. Without a buyer, the Old Corral went through its most unusual period, housing people rather than supplies. During the Roosevelt administration, it was used as a transient shelter, and then, during World War II, it housed Italian prisoners of war.

After the war, the depot became a National Guard base, first for the Iowa-Nebraska National Guard and later for the 561st Support Group for the U.S. Army Reserve. The location also housed   the Army Corps of Engineers during the 2011 floods.

The Quartermaster Depot was put up for sale again in 2013, although at the time its seller wondered who might be interested. Because of its historic landmark designation, new owners would be limited in what changes they could make to the property. It was purchased in 2014 by Monte Froehlich of Lincoln-based U.S. Property, with intentions to transform the depot into a facility with a variety of uses: An event center and restaurant, an outdoor concert venue, an auto repair shop, and a boxing club.

This is a perfect example of how flexible Omaha’s historic buildings can be: Buildings that once shipped supplies for the military and housed the homeless and prisoners can now house businesses and events. With a little vision and creativity, Omaha’s history can live on. 

Visit douglascohistory.org for more information.

Quartermaster Building