Employers and Military Deployment

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have announced new rotation goals for military troops, including reservists and members of the National Guard. For some employers, that means losing staff members who are repeatedly deployed.

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LUKE BURBANK, host:

Of course those 21,500 soldiers have to come from somewhere. Many of them are citizen soldiers in the National Guard and the Reserves. They're already balancing responsibilities at home with their military duty. They may have to do that for longer than expected though now.

Here's the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, speaking to reporters this morning.

Mr. ROBERT GATES (U.S. Secretary of Defense): Members of the Reserves will be involuntarily mobilized for a maximum of one year at a time; in contrast to the current practice of 16 to 24 months.

BURBANK: NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this report on how that extension will affect employees and employers.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Combat troops for Iraq and their support units have to come from somewhere, and extended tours of duty is one way to meet that obligation. The strain is felt not only by the soldiers in the Guard and Reserve, but by the businesses the leave when they deploy. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, or USERRA, stipulates that employers must hold open the jobs of Reservists and Guard personnel.

Keanan Torrance(ph) is the USERRA project lead for the Department of Labor, which administers the program. He says the law is very clear which military personnel are protected.

Mr. KEANAN TORRANCE (USERRA): It basically provides that our service members cannot suffer adverse discrimination based upon their current military obligations, future military obligations, or past military obligations.

BATES: It's the future part of that sentence that may have many employers worried. When the war began, many were eager to allow employees who belong to the military Reserves and National Guard to depart for active duty, then return to their jobs. But as the war has become more open-ended, some of that enthusiasm has cooled.

Bill Gaul runs Landmark Destiny Group, an online job board for military veterans. He says many vets are choosing different jobs, even though their old ones are protected by USERRA. And employers are considering carefully before hiring folks who might get called up.

Mr. BILL GAUL (Landmark Destiny Group): It also create a lot of hesitation on the part of the employers, where they have now wondered - the recruitment strategy - they can't discriminate against an individual because of their National Guard Reserve status, but they will question whether they can afford that sort of exposure.

BATES: Reentry is tough even for the self-employed. Thomas Gotsas(ph) is a dentist in Kansas City, Missouri, who's had three active deployments as an Army Reservist. That service means he's had to rebuild his practice each time he's reentered civilian life. And, Dr. Gotsas says, it may not be over yet.

Dr. THOMAS GOTSAS (Dentist): You know, the truth is I have about a year before I retire. And there's no doubt that my name may come up again. So I may have to go one more time.

BATES: And that's a possibility more and more members of the military Reserve and the National Guard will be facing, as the demand for extend service moves from possible to probable.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

BURBANK: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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