Document makes difference for Guard

March 01, 2013 10:15 am

by PAT CALDWELL / Observer correspondent

Sometimes big changes burst from seemingly modest roots.

A recent and unique concept to help Eastern Oregon Army National Guardsmen secure employment or obtain college benefits while they were still deployed to a combat zone is a good case in point. 

And it all began with a simple, one-page form.

The form, dubbed a “Civilian Employer Information Sheet,” proved to be a critical pillar in a jobs program
virtually from scratch in Eastern Oregon and Joint Base Balad, Iraq, in 2011.

“That document made everything happen,” said Jack Johnson, a longtime area resident and a volunteer for the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program.

The regional success of the nationwide, ESGR-sponsored, Employment Initiative Program, Johnson said, hinged on cooperation between Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, ESGR, WorkSource Oregon and the Guard’s Joint Transition Program.

“The program was very good. It was one of the first in the nation,” Johnson said.

Johnson said ESGR launched the Employment Initiative Program in early 2011 as a method to fill the gap of unemployment for Guardsmen created by the national economic downturn. In many states, Guardsmen returned home from a deployment only to find that jobs in the civilian world were scarce. 

While Johnson, as chairman of the ESGR’s Area 6 in Eastern Oregon, worked to implement the ESGR jobs agenda locally, he said he learned in early 2011 that in Iraq, the leadership of the 3rd Battalion was also producing a similar plan.

“The problem (3rd Battalion leaders) faced was the lack of contact with employers back here and the inability of soldiers there to apply for employment,” he said.

In short, there was a gap between two separate organizations trying to find employment for their soldiers once they returned from combat.

That, Johnson said, is where the Civilian Employer Information Sheet came in handy.

Before deployment, and as part of the ESGR’s effort to assist soldiers, each member of the 3rd Battalion filled out the info sheet. 

“Then ESGR took all of the forms — 600 plus — and sent them to the Oregon Military Department in Salem,” Johnson said. “We then received a data sheet showing the number of soldiers who were employed and who were not.”

From there, Johnson said, ESGR used the numbers as a jump-off point with area employers.

“We knew who the employers are. So we set up luncheons and breakfasts in places like Ontario and Baker City and La Grande with employers,” he said.

At the same time, in Iraq, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, La Grande native Lt. Col. Phil Appleton and Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Wyllie, a John Day resident, were busy trying to find viable methods to ensure employment for soldiers once the unit came home from Iraq.

“I learned in April (2011) of that great effort they were making to prepare deployed soldiers for jobs at home,” Johnson said. “So it appeared to be a great opportunity to apply the principles of the Employment Initiative program to the needs of the 3rd battalion.”

Johnson said contact was established with the battalion in Iraq and then he secured approval from the nationwide ESGR leadership and Oregon Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees, to implement a local program.

Johnson said, though, the localized jobs program for soldiers simply did not hinge on the cooperation of the 3rd Battalion and ESGR. Instead, as the plan developed, it was clear a holistic approach, that involved a number of different organizations, was necessary to ensure success.

“Even with the link between ESGR and the battalion in Iraq, it still would not have happened without WorkSource Oregon,” he said.

WorkSource Oregon, a division of the Oregon Employment Department, became an early, and active, partner in the jobs crusade.

“The staff at WorkSource Oregon eagerly joined the partnership,” Johnson said. “They have been a key to the success of the project.”

In Iraq, spearheaded by Appleton and Wyllie, the battalion kicked off a program that encouraged soldiers to apply for employment or seek entrance into college. Wyllie held classes from interview techniques to resume development. Soldiers also were shown how to use the Oregon Department of Labor’s iMatch application system. 

In some cases, soldiers emerged from combat patrols and logistical convoys and set to work via the Internet to apply for employment or to seek college opportunities

“The battalion’s efforts were a “first” for the National Guard,” Johnson said.

Once 3rd Battalion soldiers returned from Iraq in late 2011, and while they were at Ft. Lewis in Washington State going through their demobilization process, the Oregon Guard’s Joint Transition Program stepped in to help.

“JTAP joined the partnership and worked closely with veterans, WorkSource Oregon,” he said.

The final, critical piece of the puzzle, Johnson said, was the employers.

“At a time when the economy in the area was at its lowest in many years, they gave the veterans of the 3-116th a hiring priority. A leader in this area was Boise Cascade. They worked with the JTAP team and WorkSource Oregon,” he said.

Results of the program, Johnson said, has been encouraging.