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Witness Testimony of Lori Masapollo, Niles, MI (Spouse of Army Reservist)

My name is Lori Masapollo, and as the wife of a career Army reservist, I have been asked to describe my experiences with transition services offered by the military over the course of my husband’s multiple deployments.  My husband, Lt Colonel Gary Masapollo, has served as a commissioned officer for 22 years.  As we speak, he is at Fort Benning, Georgia, out-processing from the fourth full-term deployment in which he has engaged since 9/11. Additionally, within that same time period, he has made numerous shorter duration treks to Germany to assist with operations and training there.  He has been away from home 41 of the last 79 months. Unfortunately if I only address the transition services our family has been offered - my comments will be incredibly brief.  Therefore, please indulge me as I attempt to address our thoughts on what services we would have appreciated over the course of my husband’s service.

As Gary comes off deployment and prepares to return to us, finding a job is the primary goal on his mind.  When he left last year, he forfeited his contracted position as Professor of Military Science at Notre Dame so the Army ROTC Battalion there could fill the slot.  Now he is without a job.  As with many veterans who have devoted much of their working years to military service, he is struggling with how to find an employer who won’t be intimidated by his “previous experience” or wrongfully view him as too regimented or military focused to be of use in the civilian workforce.  We have been collaborating with other transitioned veterans and searching online to find resume templates and suggestions for how to best equate the work he has done in foreign countries to civilian job skills.  If the military offers any kind of resume crafting assistance, job placement assistance or help in matching returning veterans with companies that would appreciate certain skill sets, we have yet to discover those programs.  Assistance of this type has never been offered.

If he is unable to locate work, education assistance that would allow him to refresh his skills would be beneficial.  While he has been off defending his country, the civilian world has continued to upgrade technology, attend training seminars and create new corporate “buzz words” that may not have existed 15 months ago.  He may no longer be in step with corporate America and the business skills that those who remained home on the job have continued to hone.  Returning veterans face a declining economy and lay-offs.  The job skills that they possessed pre-deployment may not be of use to them now. We personally have no idea what education assistance or training may be available to assist him; however, classes that focus on brushing up veterans’ business skills, or help them re-direct their lives to more employable options would truly be an asset to all reservists.  Once again, this type of assistance has yet to be offered.

When Gary comes off active duty, and until he finds viable employment, health care coverage will be a concern for us.  Gary and I are the parents of five children, and although one recently deployed with the Air Force, the remaining four depend on us for health care.   It also crosses my mind that my husband’s transition out of military life is going to take its toll psychologically.  No matter how much we all have missed his daily presence in our lives; the first few weeks are never easy as we adjust to living together again and this time he will bear the added pressure of unemployment.  What if he has physical or mental health issues when he returns? Where will we turn?  What about other returning reservists?  Health care issues are briefly addressed during out-processing, but returning vets are simply directed to their closest VA facility.  Our closest VA Hospital is hours away in Battle Creek , Michigan.  No one has ever checked in on our family either during or post-deployment to confirm that all is well, or that we have the resources we need to cope.

I strongly believe that it takes a person of incredible character and patriotism to serve in the military reserves as it exists today.   As the regular armies have downsized, reservists are called upon much more frequently to augment troops.  As my own husband’s story illustrates, with five full deployments since 1999 as well as being gone for weeks at a time assisting with training and driving 90 miles to drill on weekends , he has spent an inordinate amount of time away from home.  These frequent absences have not helped his civilian career options and have only served to place him further behind in terms of rusty skill sets, lost promotions, and a smaller 401K nest egg.  Sometimes reservists are even expected to support and maintain two households.  My husband served his latest tour at CentCom headquarters at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida.  Because much of the base housing had been condemned, he was placed in a furnished apartment in the private sector – to the tune of $3800 per month.  In addition to paying our home mortgage and maintenance fees, he needed to pay for that apartment, renter’s insurance, and food and wait for the Army to reimburse him.  How many young reservists are financially prepared to take on that level of commitment all for the honor of serving their country?

If our family lived on a military base, or within close proximity to one, perhaps we would have more resources and options available to us to deal with transition issues. Certainly base life offers more support to the families left behind, as those families are surrounded by other military-minded friends who are all in the same situation and help is a few steps away.  Reservists’ families are not so blessed.  It has been my experience that if it were not for the reservists “looking after their own”, most would never know where to go for the services they need.  Luckily over the years our family has developed a network of reservist families that offer support, share knowledge of third-party resources and bolster attitudes as we await the arrival of our family’s leader and prepare him for civilian employment.   I often wonder what support exists for younger reservist families that have not had the years to establish those types of networks and contacts.  It is sad to think that they are being left behind while their loved ones are away giving so much.

LTC Gary Masapollo, IAM 38A (Civil Affairs)

Jan-August 2000: Kosovo (411th Civil Affairs Battalion: attached to 1st Infantry Division)

July-December 2002: Kosovo (415th Cvil Affairs Battalion: attached to 1st Infantry Division)

February 2003-April 2004: Iraq (308th Civil Affairs Brigade: attached to U.S. V Corps)

Jan 2006- July 2006: GTMO, Cuba (Secretary of Defense/Office of the Administrative Review for the Detention of Enemy Combatants)

June 2007-June 2008: CENTCOM (Individual Member Augmentee) Central Command HQ Tampa.