By Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (11/08/11) – Reintegration, family support, attacking Guard member unemployment and minimizing uncertainty about deployments are key parts of taking care of Citizen-Warriors, the secretary of defense said here Tuesday.
"As secretary of defense, I consider it my highest responsibility to protect those who have defended this country, and I want you to convey to all of your Guardsmen back home that I will fight for them in Washington, just as they have fought for us wherever duty has called," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the National Guard's 2011 Joint Senior Leadership Conference.
The secretary has been fighting for Guard members beyond Washington: He fights for jobs for Citizen-Warriors when he travels, including during a recent meeting with employers in New York.
Unemployment among members of the National Guard and Reserves was at 13 percent earlier this year.
The unemployment rate among junior enlisted Guard members and Reservists has hit 23 percent.
"The Department [of Defense] is working hard to connect employers with talented service members, supported by more than 4,700 volunteers who help communicate with our men and women in uniform about employment resources," Panetta said.
Safeguarding Guard members' jobs when they are deployed also is critical, he said.
"Our employer support programs work hard to make sure that those called to duty have the peace of mind that their job will still exist when they return home," he said.
Uncertainty about deployment can affect employment. Sometimes, Guard units are mobilized and Guard members leave jobs or school, end leases and move families – only to find their deployment is cancelled because of changed operational needs, a practice known as "off-ramping."
"I know how disruptive it is for Soldiers and Airmen who have made major commitments when they are mobilized," Panetta said.
"I am committed – along with the leadership of the National Guard – to avoiding this practice where possible and to provide suitable alternative missions and other mitigation for units and individuals whose lives are disrupted.
"These men and women have made a major commitment to our country, and we owe it to them to avoid unnecessary hardship and ensure their quality of life. That is the sacred obligation the American people owe to all our Guardsmen."
Adequate pre- and post-deployment support of Guard members and families is another piece of the mosaic of service member care.
"Through the Department [of Defense's] Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, we are striving to ensure that Guardsmen, their families and their employers are properly prepared for their deployments and that they have access to services, referrals and proactive outreach throughout the mobilization cycle."