Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Major General James D. Tyre, ARNG, Assistant Adjutant General, Florida Army National Guard
Overview: The Florida National Guard (FLNG) remains challenged with unemployment among its 12,000 service members. Through the support of legislators, a number of programs have been made available to assist transitioning service members find employment. While the FLNG has experienced some improvements, the need exists to explore options to enhance and expand current processes, with an emphasis on follow-up in the 6-24 months after separation.
- FLNG Employment. The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team redeployed in December 2010 and reported a 30% unemployment rate among its members. A FLNG survey conducted in January 2011 indicated a 17% rate among Soldiers of the Florida Army National Guard. A decline in available jobs and a steadily growing population of veterans contributes to the unemployment issue.
- What We Are Doing Now. FLNG has long-standing partnerships with several state and federal agencies, as well as a number of private and non-profit organizations. The FLNG Adjutant General established the Florida Guard Family Career Connection (FGFCC) in the fall of 2010 to link service members with the Employer Partnership for Armed Services and Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation. This program also assisted service members with employment-seeking skills and job placement.
- What Else Can Be Done. Several agencies focus on assisting service members with employment challenges, and most military installations provide transition services to separating service members. Guardsmen lack the facility-based programs that are traditionally provided to the active component. The FLNG vision, properly resourced, is to establish a local, accessible source in our communities that integrates services and programs, and links Guardsmen to employers.
- Importance of Employing National Guard Soldiers. Employers who hire National Guard service members enjoy economic and other intangible advantages. A Guardsman is a worker that is already trained at the journeyman-level, and who has access to medical benefits outside of the workplace. Further, a Guardsman is a disciplined, drug-free, physically-fit leader and role model for other employees.
- Building Resiliency. Service and Family member well-being remains a top priority for the FLNG. Unemployment is just one factor of several that contributes to an elevated rate of divorce, suicide and other challenges for members of all military services and components. The FLNG is committed to mitigating these issues in order to maintain a ready and reliable force for the Nation.
1. Opening Remarks
Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, distinguished members of the committee; I am honored to appear before you today, on behalf of the Adjutant General of Florida, Major General Emmett Titshaw and the 12,000 members of the Florida National Guard.
I welcome the opportunity to illustrate, through our story, a picture that is likely common across all of our states and territories. Over the last 6 months, our units have returned home after the largest mobilization of the Florida National Guard since World War II. We have served our nation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the Horn of Africa, as well as here in the National Capital Region and other regions of the globe. Guardsmen have proudly answered the call when needed but have returned home to face a different threat; unemployment. Closing businesses, fewer jobs and an overall economic decline have contributed to the struggle associated with redeployment of our forces. A number of great federal, state and private programs exist to assist Guardsmen transitioning back to civilian life. The challenge that remains is finding or creating a link that joins our unemployed Guardsmen with existing resources or programs that result in a viable career. Through various testimonies over the past several months, the National Guard has presented evidence of our enduring value to the Nation, through our contributions to the Nation’s defense at home and abroad, and by way of a ready and an accessible force. To maintain this cost-efficient resource, we must ensure our National Guard members are able to sustain and support their families with reliable, quality employment.
2. FLNG Employment Circumstances
Historically, unemployment ranges from roughly 14%-38% across redeploying units of the Florida National Guard. In January 2011, The Florida National Guard initiated a statewide assessment of the unemployment rate among our units. To date, our surveys identified over 1,700 Soldiers who responded that they are unemployed. This represents 17% of our Army National Guard force. The majority of these Guardsmen have been redeployed since July 2010. The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team has been our largest redeploying unit with locations from Miami to Panama City. This unit returned this past December with more than 30% expressing civilian employment challenges.
Though our detailed assessment of causes continues, the reasons are varied and include business closures, downsizing, and other economic factors that have impacted the entire nation. Further, we have identified the greatest challenges to employment emerge months or years after the service member returns home. Currently there is no enduring program at the local level to address this need. During this economic downturn Florida has lost more than 900,000 nonagricultural jobs. According to the Office of Actuary, Department of the Veterans Administration, Florida has the fastest growing veterans’ population in the nation, with almost 1.7 million veterans. There are more than 139,000 active, reserve and National Guard service members who claim Florida as their home state of residence. The combination of decreasing jobs and a growing population of veterans contributes to the unemployment issue.
3. What We Are Doing Now
The Florida National Guard has successfully partnered on employment issues for many years with corporations such as Home Depot, CSX, and Lowes. Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, Troops to Teachers, Helmets to Hard Hats and the Agency for Workforce Innovation, are some public and private organizations and programs that have also partnered with the Florida National Guard through our reintegration events which evolved into the Yellow Ribbon Program.
In the fall of 2010, with the return of a large number of Florida National Guard units, The Adjutant General of Florida established the Florida Guard Family Career Connection (FGFCC), which joined with the Employer Partnership for Armed Services and Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation, to assist our Soldiers and Airmen. These organizations registered approximately 450 returning Infantry Brigade Soldiers with their respective employment agencies and also provided resume and cover letter writing classes so Soldiers could immediately post their resumes for any open position they found. The Soldiers also had access to a consolidated employment website and were able to add their resumes to well known employment search engines. Despite these efforts, our Guardsmen continue to experience employment challenges, and we have discovered that many of these actually begin to materialize 6-24 months after redeployment.
The Florida National Guard is authorized one uniformed and two contract employees working in the capacity of Transition Assistance Advisors (TAA). These individuals have the responsibility to ensure the 12,000 service members are aware of the different benefits available after a deployment, and are challenged by these large numbers. In addition to the TAA, the Florida Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee is responsible for gaining and maintaining employer support for Guard and Reserve. Through their Ombudsman, they work on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) issue resolution with Florida employers. Since October 2010 the ESGR has successfully resolved 77 USERRA cases. We currently have 3 cases pending resolution.
4. What Else Can Be Done
We’re proud of the progress we have made in engaging our service members and linking them to employers through the resources that I just highlighted. We believe, however, that there are still some measures that can be taken to enhance our ability to foster these relationships.
Developing incentives for employers to seek out and hire National Guardsmen would begin to address the needs of the businesses that do support the National Guard , and encourage those that would like to support , but cannot afford to during these tough economic times. While a service member is deployed many businesses must hire a temporary employee to take the service member’s civilian job. This creates a dilemma for the employer who must compensate for the loss of this highly skilled employee. Perhaps something can be done for these employers to reduce this burden. Due to recurring deployments this incentive should be perpetual.
We are watching with interest several individual state programs that have already demonstrated value, but may be at risk of future funding. Identifying and adequately resourcing the successful ones is vital. One program, the Job Connection Education Program (JCEP) is funded through the Army National Guard, and piloted in the state of Texas. Since its establishment in March 2010, over 350 Soldiers have been placed in jobs directly through the services of JCEP , and on average, are earning twice the wages of other veterans placed by the Texas Workforce Commission. Focusing on identifying and translating military experience into civilian job skills, many beneficiaries of this program have transitioned to careers as journeymen, rather than low-wage jobs as entry-level employees. This program is an adaptive process, continuously analyzing and discarding those activities that are ineffective, and enhancing those that work. It has progressed from placing just 4 veterans per month, to most recently over 50 per month into valuable careers.
The Washington State National Guard instituted a similar full-time employment transition initiative to help link various programs for transitioning service members. In six months this program helped to employ 583 Guardsmen. Other examples of employment resources such as Direct Employers, the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces and Save Our Veterans are available online and are tailored to assist veterans with translating military experience into civilian skill sets and connecting service members to employers.
However; without sustained resourcing, centralized planning, decentralized delivery and an individually-tailored plan, service members may miss opportunities just for lack of knowing “where to go.”
For Florida National Guardsmen, we envision a one-stop shop that integrates complementary systems and locally ties them to employers. This program would provide an attractive menu of available skill sets to employers and convey the benefits of hiring Guardsmen. It would enable them to fill vacant positions and potentially create growth by presenting options to expand with more affordable costs. Additionally, this program would provide transition services to Guardsmen in an environment that eases the navigation through the numerous resources that are already available. Our armories and facilities, if properly resourced, are well-suited to house this type of enterprise because of their local ties to communities.
5. Importance of Employing National Guard Soldiers
The programs I’ve highlighted are just a few, and obviously require appropriate resourcing, but in the end, will pay dividends through other metrics.
Reserve Component service members who are employed are easier to retain in their respective services. We are at our peak of readiness, and the cost to replace and train even one service member is immeasurable. The institutional knowledge and experience that these combat-tested leaders possess cannot be learned overnight or even over several years. We cannot afford to lose this generation of Soldiers and Airmen, as the negative consequences will impact the readiness that we’ve worked over a decade to achieve.
Employers of National Guardsmen enjoy several economic benefits. Guardsmen arrive with trained skill sets, ranging from administrative, logistical, organizational, and maintenance to engineering, health services, and information technology. Often, their military-acquired skills exceed those of their civilian counterparts. Additionally, many transition with the Veterans Administration or other military health entitlements that may reduce the cost of employer provided health insurance.
In addition to the financial advantages of hiring Guardsmen, employers profit from the intangible qualities these employees bring to the workforce. They are disciplined, motivated, physically fit, and drug-free leaders. They are viewed as trusted role-models in their communities, and help bring credibility to any organization.
Employed National Guardsmen are active in both their unit and their community. In this dual role they contribute to the economic growth of society. In Florida, more than $472 Million is injected annually into the local communities by the presence of the National Guard.
6. Building Resiliency
Addressing issues of unemployment is just one means to tackle what has become an issue of resiliency, not just for the National Guard, but also for other components and services. Throughout the National Guard we have experienced elevated numbers of suicide, divorce and other issues associated with physical and mental health. Sadly, these problems have multiple components, become “migratory,” and ultimately affect whole families, schools, and communities. As service members redeploy and transition to civilian life, hometown communities want to embrace them and provide a support network for full assimilation. A locally embedded resource that is postured to integrate employers, Guardsmen and other available resources to eliminate unemployment among our service members is critical.
7. Closing Remarks
On behalf of Major General Emmett Titshaw and the 12,000 Soldiers and Airmen of the Florida National Guard, the civilian workforce, and their families, I would like to thank you for your service to this great Nation. It has been an honor to be with you today and I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I look forward to your questions.