National Guard and Reserve

Serving in the National Guard & Reserve

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

Full disclosure: I ‘grew up’ in the Reserve Component of the US Armed Forces. The Missouri National Guard, to be specific. It’s what helped shape me into who I am today and had a bearing on how I approached the various positions I held in the Army. And no surprise, it will be the lens through which I write the rest of this post. Consider me a fan of the National Guard and Reserve…

I’m not writing this because there’s a military draft on its way, or that we’re getting ready for an extended conflict in the Middle East…no, I’m writing on this particular subject because the reserve forces of these United States of America are so vital to our national defense that they deserve some attention every now and again.

What kind of forces are we talking about? It’s what some of us refer to as the Seven Seals: Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Air Force Reserve. Some of these part-time forces have been around for quite a while (the oldest is the National Guard, closing in on 400 years), and armories have been a hub in many of our communities for decades. And while many of us are familiar with the similarities, I talk with folks all the time who are surprised when they discover the differences between those components of our military reserve.

Some of those differences are branch-specific; with Army forces, both Guard Soldiers and Army Reserve Soldiers train one weekend per month and two weeks every summer (but there may be opportunities to go on orders for extended periods). Both National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers can be called into full-time service to support Army missions (and not just for combat deployments). The primary distinction, though, is that National Guard Soldiers serve a dual mission…either a State’s Governor or the President of the United States can call up the National Guard, for state emergency duty or a federal mobilization. That’s just what the Army has to offer for potential Citizen-Soldiers…the other branches of service have their own ways of doing business, and their own opportunities. Just know that today, serving in the Guard & Reserve is so much more than one weekend a month & 2 weeks in the summer.

Way back in the mid-1980s, when I joined the local National Guard unit while I was going to college, it was a different fighting force than it is today. While we were proud of our ability to shoot, move, and communicate (yes, I was in a Field Artillery unit), at the local armory it seemed more about the camaraderie and sense of belonging than anything else. But that was pre-Desert Storm, and pre-Global War of Terror. During that decade after the first Gulf War, leading up to 9/11, it felt like our reserve forces were changing…more modern equipment for many of our units, more inclusion by our active duty counterparts. Less about being “in the rear with the gear,” if we were even called up at all. Today, many of our brothers and sisters in the National Guard & Reserve, like their counterparts on active duty, have multiple deployments under their belt while also playing a pivotal role in their local community.

Many of the challenges that traditional members of the reserve component face revolve around their civilian employment…either juggling their co-careers (military service and a civilian occupation) or finding that good civilian job in the first place. I’ve spoken with too many job-seekers over the last decade who feel they’ve dropped out of consideration for an open job when that employer finds out they serve in the Guard or Reserve. I’d like to think that it’s a rare occurrence, not just because it’s less than legal, but because it’s a bad business decision. Folks with military experience bring so much more to an employer’s workforce than those without; I always argue that it more than makes up for the time they may have to spend away on training or on a deployment.

Fortunately, for those that have a civilian job and get called away to serve, there’s USERRA, which is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (esgr.mil/USERRA/What-is-USERRA). USERRA is a Federal law that establishes rights and responsibilities for uniformed Service members and their civilian employers. USERRA “protects the job rights of individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave employment positions to perform service in the uniformed Services, to include certain types of service in the National Disaster Medical System and the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service.”

USERRA’s protections are intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserve, National Guard, or other uniformed Services: (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service. Just as important, the law is intended to encourage non-career uniformed service so the United States can enjoy the protection of those Services, staffed by qualified people, while maintaining a balance with the needs of private and public employers who also depend on these same individuals. For more information on this Act and the agency that is its biggest cheerleader, check out Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), at esgr.mil. ESGR is a Department of Defense program established in 1972 “to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers and to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee’s military commitment.”

I’m not a recruiter – never have been – but I maintain that it’s a great way to serve, if you’re qualified. And while, certainly, there are challenges with serving and maintaining a co-career in the Guard & Reserve, there are benefits, too. You might be eligible for G.I. Bill benefits, state-level tuition assistance to help pay for college, VA home loans to buy a house, and even health insurance. If you’ve separated from the Service & miss your time in uniform or know someone else that wants to serve, reach out to the local recruiter & see what’s on the table. With some of the Services, you’ll find over 100 different jobs you might be eligible for, from high-tech jobs to practical trade skills or vocations where you get to blow stuff up.

I thought I’d include some quick links here, just in case you want to make a connection (yes, a Military Connection). Keep in mind that these links may change, or the links might stay the same but the options for joining might be different based on the needs of that particular Service. Visit the Army National Guard at https://www.nationalguard.com/; the Air National Guard at https://www.goang.com/; the Army Reserve at https://www.goarmy.com/reserve.html; the Coast Guard Reserve at https://www.gocoastguard.com/reserve-careers; the Navy Reserve at https://www.navy.com/forward; the Marine Corps Reserve at https://www.marforres.marines.mil/; and the Air Force Reserve at https://afreserve.com/.

So, when you come across that ‘weekend warrior’ in your local community, I encourage you to see beyond the uniform. Sure, you can thank her or him for their service, or show your appreciation in other ways; but I hope you consider more consciously the challenges they face, even in times of peace and no deployments. Consider how they juggle the co-careers of military service and a civilian occupation, or how they’ll leave it all behind to deploy when necessary. And if you weren’t already, I hope you’re now a fan of the National Guard and Reserve, too.

Until next time…

The Veterans Service Organization

The Veterans Service Organization

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

The Veterans Service Organization has long been a part of the American landscape. For many of us, the groups that fall in this particular category have been recognized as cornerstones in our communities for decades. We grew up in their halls, going to all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts in the morning and playing bingo at night.

Some of them host karaoke and trivia nights, while others focus on baseball or dart leagues. By and large, though, they all have a higher purpose that resonates with those of us in the military community…and that’s to serve.

There are many – oh, so many – organizations that seemingly help with Veterans’ causes. A quick Google search of Veterans Service Organizations (VSO, for short) yielded about 156,000,000 results in 1.07 seconds. I don’t mean to imply that there are 156 million such groups, but you’ll probably need to dig a little deeper to really see what your options are.

Most of these organizations compete with each other – for members, for publicity, and for money. It seems they’re all vying for that federal grant, or that private foundation award, or for your hard-earned twenty bucks. Some have a great track record of using those donated dollars wisely, and others not so much, but you’ll have to decide where that ranks for you, when choosing where you should donate your time, talent, or treasure.

So, if you’re looking to connect with one, you’re going to have to wade through more than just the first few pages of your vague online query to find your next VSO home. Narrow your search a bit more…are you looking for one that’s local, regardless of their national footprint, or do you need a group to be Congressionally chartered before you’ll support it? Maybe you’re looking for one (or more) that has someone that can help with processing a VA claim.

If that’s the case, then that’s a whole other search, and an entirely different article. The other VSO is an acronym for Veterans Service Officer, not Veterans Service Organization. A VSO, in that sense of the word, can help you with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims...and can be worth their weight in gold, if they know what they’re doing. Connect with a good VSO (organization) and they’ll help connect you with a good VSO (officer).

Getting back to your search for the right Veterans Service Organization, a really good place to start is the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2019 Directory of Veterans and Military Service Organizations. Found at va.gov/vso, this particular listing is provided as an informational service and is arranged in five parts: 

  • Part I is a listing of Congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organizations that are also recognized by the Department of VA Office of General Counsel for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA claims;
  • Part II is a listing of Veterans Service Organizations that are Congressionally chartered but that are NOT recognized by the VA for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of Veteran’s claims;
  • Part III is a list of Veteran organizations that are not Congressionally chartered but that are officially recognized by the VA for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of Veteran’s claims; 
  • Part IV lists those Veteran organizations that are neither Congressionally chartered nor officially recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the purpose of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of Veteran’s claims, but that represent the interest of American Veterans; and
  • Part V, a section focused on Intergovernmental Affairs and official resources at the state level.

I could take up a lot of digital real estate listing out some of these groups, but I won’t do that here. Just know that most of the organizations you’ve already heard of are on this list, as well as many of the ones you haven’t…from The American Legion, VFW, and DAV, to The Mission Continues and The National Association of Atomic Veterans. If this directory is still a little too much, get in touch with your state’s Department or Commission on Veterans Affairs and let them help you navigate these waters.

So, I challenge you to get involved. Join one or two Veterans Service Organizations whose mission connects with you. Whether you’re joining to start really giving back to the military community, or for the camaraderie and sense of belonging, I think you’ll be glad that you did.

Until next time…

From Battle Plans to Business Plans

From Battle Plans to Business Plans

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

Well, the results are in – Veterans are entrepreneurial. Whether or not we know it, and whether or not we do anything to confirm it, is another matter – but you can ‘rest easy’ knowing you’re more likely to succeed as a small business owner than your counterpart in the general population, one with no military experience.

Notice I didn’t say anything about guaranteed success. As I’ve said in this blog’s space before, small business is risky. I’ve always thought, though, that it’s what we’ve been through – from the adversity, to the training, to the opportunities to lead, to the expectations that we’ll be flexible and adaptable – those are some of the intangibles that stack the entrepreneurial deck in our favor, even if just a little bit. 

Another one of those intangibles, a really important one that’s hard to measure, is our ability (and susceptibility) to plan – to plan for the best and worst cases, to plan for contingencies, and to plan for second- and third-order effects. From battle plans to business plans – our background in the military community makes us more likely to succeed because we’re more likely to plan.

President and former Soldier Dwight Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” It could be argued that truer words have never been spoken, because it’s what we discover (or uncover) during the planning process that can make all the difference. But with as much planning as you, the small business owner, might engage in, keep in mind that you’ll need to be ready to adjust fire just as soon as things go sideways.

We have plenty of advocates in the civilian sector that want to help us succeed in small business, and most of them that I’ve spoken with over the years agree that we, collectively, have what it takes. Case in point #1: a colleague of mine that works for the Small Business Development Center system has worked with hundreds of clients and reviewed countless business plans. When advising prospective entrepreneurs, he doles out his own words of advice, such as those in an earlier post we titled, “Six Tips to a Top-Shelf Business Plan” (https://militaryconnection.com/blog/top-shelf-business-plan/). When business planning, he recommends beginning with the end in mind, being wary of search engine results, being specific in your statement of purpose, and backing up your plan with robust action. Keep in mind that, as far as business plans go, there is no magic format or layout, and research is the key to a solid plan.

Case in point #2: a franchise consultant I know, one that regularly presents at transition workshops, tells me that there’s a general consensus among the franchise industry that Veterans make great franchisees (in other words, as small business owners). In an article found on our blog at https://militaryconnection.com/blog/vets-make-good-franchisees/, he offers up his take on why U.S. Census Bureau data suggests that approximately 2.5 million businesses – nearly 9.1% – are Veteran-owned, and why nearly one in seven U.S. franchises is owned by a Veteran. He touches on how proper planning is the foundation for so many other success factors that franchisors seek: quality training, risk management, discipline, and the ability to work under pressure. I second that assessment, and add a few more of my own tips for the ‘would-be’ entrepreneur…things that become second nature with constant and consistent planning.

What are those extra tips that might help you plan your next business venture, you ask? Well, they include defining success (success isn’t always measured in dollars and cents, but without spending time and energy in the planning process, that may be hard to nail down; figuring out your comfort level with risk (with proper planning, you can identify where your risk lies and determine the best way to mitigate that risk); building your team (as in, surrounding yourself with good people…professionals who have skillsets that you don’t (but need); and managing your brand (be your own brand ambassador for your small business…clean up your online image if you need to, then walk the walk.)

So, at the end of the day (or at the beginning of your next venture), just remember how valuable the planning process will be and embrace it accordingly. A few more words from someone more famous than I would be, “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Many successful small business owners can also attest that, “no business plan survives first contact with the customer.” But in the process of planning, with what you’ve learned along the way, you’ll adapt and you’ll adjust…it’s what we do. And more often than not, we’ll succeed…

Until next time…

 

Veterans’ Preference in the Job Search

Veterans’ Preference in the Job Search

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

If you’re part of the Military community and you’ve spent any time at all looking for a job, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with the term “Veterans’ Preference.” For most of us, though, that’s the extent of it…we have a vague familiarity with the words, something that gives us a conceptual warm and fuzzy, but we’re not quite sure why.

Simply stated, Veterans’ Preference is a policy that may allow an applicant to receive preference in the hiring process over non-Veterans. State and local public-sector programs and companies in private enterprise may have their own preference policies in place, but for the rest of this post, we’ll be talking about Veterans’ Preference in the federal jobs environment.

According to OPM (the US Office of Personnel Management that serves as the country’s chief Human Resources agency and that oversees its federal hiring processes), Veterans of the US Armed Forces have been given some degree of preference in appointments to federal jobs since the Civil War. Veterans’ Preference was used to “recognize the economic loss suffered by citizens who have served their country in uniform, restore Veterans to a favorable competitive position for Government employment, and acknowledge the larger obligation owed to disabled Veterans.” In its current form, the policy has its roots in the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944 (codified in Title 5, United States Code).

If you really want to do a deep dive on the subject, you should supplement your education with a visit to OPM’s web page for HR professionals at https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/veterans-services/vet-guide-for-hr-professionals/. While you’re there, you’ll find that, by law, preference in hiring “applies to permanent and temporary positions in the competitive and excepted services of the Executive branch,” but that the Legislative and Judicial branches of the Federal Government are exempt, unless made subject to the Veterans’ Preference Act by some other law. If you find yourself longing for more on the topic, I’d also visit https://www.fedshirevets.gov/job-seekers/veterans-preference/. You’ll be able to really get in the weeds about when preference applies and the type you’re eligible for, which we’ll just touch on here and now…

Types of Veterans’ Preference (Federal level). Veterans’ Preference eligibility can be based on dates of active duty service, receipt of a campaign badge, receipt of a Purple Heart, or a service-connected disability, but know that not all active duty service qualifies for Veterans’ Preference. Only Veterans discharged or released from active duty under honorable conditions are eligible for veterans’ preference. Military retirees at the rank of Major, Lieutenant Commander, or higher are not eligible for preference in appointment unless they are disabled veterans (but this doesn’t apply to gray-area retirees, those Reservists who won’t draw military retired pay until age 60.) There are three types of preference eligibility: sole survivorship (0-point preference), non-disabled (5-point preference), and disabled (10-point preference). Here are a few of the details:

…0-point preference eligibility. You were released or discharged from a period of active duty from the armed forces, after August 29, 2008, by reason of being the only surviving child in a family in which the father or mother or one or more siblings: 1) Served in the armed forces, AND 2) was killed, died as a result of wounds, accident, or disease, is in a captured or missing in action status, or is permanently 100 percent disabled or hospitalized on a continuing basis (and is not employed gainfully because of the disability or hospitalization); WHERE the death, status, or disability did not result from the intentional misconduct or willful neglect of the parent or sibling and was not incurred during a period of unauthorized absence. (While no points are added to a scored application for 0-point eligibles, they are listed ahead of non-preference eligibles with the same score or in the same quality category.)

…5-point preference eligibility. You served on active duty in a war, campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal or badge has been authorized; OR for more than 180 consecutive days, other than for training, during various periods of time over the last 65 years or so. (I refer you back to the OPM webpage earlier in this post for the exact dates.)

…10-Point preference eligibility.  You served at any time, AND 1) you have a service-connected disability, OR 2) you received a Purple Heart.

How Veterans’ Preference is applied & other things you’ll need. When applying for Federal jobs, eligible Veterans should claim preference on their application or resume; when agencies use a numerical rating and ranking system to determine the best qualified applicants for a position, an additional 5 or 10 points are added to the numerical score of qualified preference-eligible Veterans. When claiming Veterans’ Preference, you’ll typically need to provide a copy of your DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, or other acceptable documentation. Applicants claiming 10-point preference will usually need to submit form SF-15, Application for 10-point Veterans’ Preference, or other acceptable documentation (such as a letter from the VA that contains details on dates of service, discharge status, and disability rating).

 

The informal feedback I’ve received over the last decade indicates that most of us in the general population of job seekers have mixed feelings about Veterans’ Preference. I, for one, appreciate the gesture our national leadership put in place all those years ago, but I can’t say as I’ve ever benefited from being awarded those preference points in the application process. I’ve heard many folks say they’ve applied to countless position and (even with points applied) have never even been called for an interview, and therefore are less than enamored with the policy. Still others make no bones about their dislike and distrust of the process, believing that nepotism and the ‘good old boy’ system is still alive and well, regardless of what OPM has to say.

My take is that you’d have to have a look deep under the hood to gauge whether or not Veterans’ Preference in the federal hiring arena has had the kind of impact its writers had hoped it would. But if you’re applying for a position or a program that uses Veterans’ Preference and you’re eligible, I encourage you to use it to your advantage – you’ve earned it. Remember that Veterans’ Preference doesn’t guarantee a job to those that qualify, and it typically doesn’t apply to internal agency actions like promotions, transfers, reassignments, and reinstatements.

Personally, I never thought Veterans’ Preference would be that ‘X’ factor that got me the job, but rather that it might be what gives me that competitive edge one day, and propels me to the interview phase of the job search. And here’s hoping that it will for you, too.

Until next time…