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Witness Testimony of Mr. John Barnes, Managing Partner and CEO Panther Racing

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss the partnership between the National Guard and Panther Racing, and our collaborative effort to address veteran unemployment.  I am John Barnes, managing partner and CEO of Panther Racing, a championship-winning race team in the IndyCar Series.

We are more than an IndyCar Series team with 28 race victories and three championship titles. As someone who has been in racing for over 40 years, I can confirm that for a majority of my career each race season was measured by results on the track; however, since Panther partnered with the National Guard in 2008, that has changed. Today, because of our partnership with the National Guard, we are a military service and marketing company that uses our participation in open-wheel racing as a vehicle to expand and execute all of the Guard’s recruiting and retention efforts.

Because of the interaction between our team and all of the soldiers and airmen that attend our events, it has focused our entire organization on making sure we use all of our assets for the betterment of those who serve. Each day the Panther team wakes up with one goal: help the National Guard achieve its mission. What we achieve on these initiatives on a daily basis is how we measure success at Panther Racing.

In the next five years, a tsunami is coming as many leave the active duty ranks and return to civilian society. Joblessness is set to worsen as the war in Afghanistan winds down and more than 1.5 million service members are projected to leave the military by 2016.  The Guard will be asked to do more.  If these men and women are not employed, they will leave the Guard and it will be come more difficult to recruit.  

We must continue to allow use of non-traditional high-power methods like the Panther/National Guard relationship to gain access to business leaders to succeed in this effort to bring new employers into the fold.  In addition, we need to continuously educate and emphasize business leaders on the overall value of the National Guard, it's unique mission, and how critical employers and Guard employment are for both recruiting and retention. The Guard will be relied upon even more in the coming years.

When an employer is not supportive of our Soldiers, then all too often our troops have to choose between their civilian job and military service, and all too often they chose their full-time job.  When this happens we all lose.  Military readiness suffers as well.  Our nation loses military experience and our investment in soldiers.  Our taxpayers lose, as more of their money has to be spent to recruit and train replacements.

Mission Points: Fighting Veteran Unemployment
Early in our relationship with the National Guard, we learned of the unemployment challenges facing Veterans, and to a greater extent, the Guard. While knowing that we were in no way an expert in this field, we thought our sports marketing platform could play an integral role in the development of a national effort to address Veteran unemployment.  With support from Guard leadership, we agreed as a team that fighting this unemployment crisis would become, in addition to recruiting and retention, an added pillar to our mission.

In 2009, LTG Clyde Vaughn and his staff asked me if we could include up to six ESGR members and employers to our race events. After learning more about the mission of that organization and the important role they were going to need to fill, I was very eager to assist. ESGR has gone from an organization supporting USERRA to being a fulltime employment organization connecting returning Guardsmen with employers with their highly successful Heroes 2 Hire program.  Shortly after listening to the state ESGR staff and recognizing the importance of engaging directly with prospective employers, we invited employers to race sites and began   educating them on the unemployment challenges the Guard and their spouses face.     The goal was to inspire and motivate these employers to hire more military personnel transferring to the private sector.

In the first year of this partnership our goals were very modest: ESGR was to invite 4-6 potential employers to race events The following year our program expanded and the goal was increased to 25 business leaders of greater quality from the local community. By the third year, we hosted over 50 employers and ESGR staff.

We evaluated our efforts with ESGR at the end of our 2011 season. It had success and we had learned a lot about how to make these important connections and raise awareness about this issue. Yet, we sought to have an even greater impact on the crisis of unemployment among our Guard.  We asked our partners and National Guard leaders: How can we be of further assistance?

Panther Launches “Operation: Hire Our Guard”
Late in 2011, with the vision of Dave McIntyre of TriWest Healthcare and a collaboration with multiple entities including the National Guard, Panther launched “Operation: Hire Our Guard”. We greatly expanded our efforts and our partner involvement to include leaders such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Hiring Our Heroes initiative), the White House (Joining Forces program) and ESGR to raise awareness of the National Guard overall and to emphasize the need for employers to hire veterans. We tried to become a “Pied Piper” of sorts taking the most effective parts of many existing programs and combining them with the shock and awe that our industry brought forth to make a perfect storm where high-level employers are set shoulder to shoulder with National Guardsmen.

There are many facets to Operation: Hire Our Guard, all of which are focused on combating Veteran unemployment, but the initiative also meets our original goals of raising awareness about the National Guard and assisting in recruiting and retaining its force. We also utilized this effort to expand our nationwide reach, and through Operation: Hire Our Guard our team has been successful in reaching many states that do not host an IndyCar event.

The issue goes much deeper than unemployment, as we’ve learned how the lack of a job can adversely affect these soldiers in many other ways. I learned the cruel effects from unemployment on mental health and suicide from Dave McIntyre, General Chiarelli and Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix and others. All have played a leading role in combatting suicide and are champions of our jobs effort.

We engage the potential employer during our education program regarding PTS. We have learned from experts that an estimated 20% of returning soldiers are affected.  Typically, if a Human Resource office has a choice between two candidates for employment (a soldier affected by PTS and a unaffected civilian) they normally chose the candidate with less risk versus more reward. We help employers better understand and address the effects of PTS in a very straightforward manner during our program.

There are other issues employers consider when deciding not to hire a Guardsman, such as deployment disrupting his/her employment. Our mission is to address how the Guardsman needs an employment opportunity, and how the company can gain a valuable team member with remarkable skills and leadership ability. Educating employers about the National Guard and the skill set the soldiers could potentially provide to their workforce is critical.  At all of our Operation: Hire Our Guard events we deploy all our assets to entice participation and make it a memorable event for the employers and the attending Veterans. My job is to follow up with these business leaders, which we do within the two weeks after the event. We provide excitement from the IndyCar experiences and use the access this effort affords me to stay connected and ensures these business leaders are working to employ Guardsmen.

Panther Racing’s initiative is centered on three pillars:
•    Employment Programs at IndyCar events:
o    Panther Racing collaborates with the U.S. Chamber, the ESGR and each respective state’s National Guard Leadership and Employment Outreach coordinator to bring local business leaders to each race to have them experience the Operation: Hire Our Guard program. The goal is raising awareness of the unemployment crisis, highlighting the benefits of hiring Veterans, making the necessary connections between local business and military leadership and getting businesses engaged in hiring fairs in their state to help Veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment. Panther Racing provides access to IndyCar activities throughout race weekend, and the race-day program sometimes includes up to 150 National Guard soldiers, potential speakers from the National Guard, U.S. Chamber, the White House, local employers, senior military officers and – whenever possible – Medal of Honor recipients. This schedule has been very successful as it allows interested employers to directly interface with the States Employer Outreach officers while there.

•    Employer Outreach Programs in States without an IndyCar event:
o    In an effort to extend beyond states that host IndyCar events, and to reach areas of the country where the unemployment crisis is severe, Panther took its employment program on the road. Following a similar structure as the at-track programs, Panther hosts a single-day event so business leaders can attend and be home the same night. The event includes a behind-the-scenes look at military training and a ride in our IndyCar two-seater. Once that is complete attendees experience the same program highlighting the message regarding the unemployment crisis and how employers in attendance can address the problem. This is all done to complement the ESGR program.

•    Motivating Employers Toward Hiring Fairs and Hero-2-Hired:
o    Our call to action for employers is simple: Engage in a U.S. Chamber hiring fair and the Hero-2-Hired program. These two programs are amongst the most effective in combating the unemployment crisis. Some of the best hiring fairs have been organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes but we encourage them to support agencies with which you are familiar, such as the Veterans Administration, American Legion and a host of others working to find veterans good-paying jobs in their local communities. Over 400 such job fairs were executed from March 2011 through March 2013 and, to date, more than 15,000 Veterans have been hired.  Employers must prove they have actual positions available to be filled prior to participating.  Attendance is free to all veterans and their families and they can apply, interview, and accept a position at the hiring fair.  For veterans unable to attend, a recruiter can provide résumés to employers on-site or online. We also fully support the programs that Heroes 2 Hired provides. They have great on-line programs where Veterans can find employment. Another great program that they provide is the State Transition Coordinator, and the results of this program are quickly proving it to be one of the most effective in existence.

Mission Points: Hometown Hero Program
One of the programs that we are very proud to have started is our Hometown Hero program, where each state’s National Guard selects a notable warrior to be honored. This soldier is recognized throughout the weekend and sits next to our driver during the IndyCar autograph session. They sign their own “Hero Card” with thousands of fans standing in line to personally meet one of our Nation’s heroes. In 2013, the program will be expanded to include a neighboring state of the race location. Thus far, we have presented Hometown Hero awards to 78 recipients since 2008, including SGT Donnie Hunter of California, SPC Christina Gonzales of Nevada, SSG Eloy Aguirre of Texas, SSG Eugene Patton of Colorado and both Staff Sergeant Jennifer M. Bartkus and Sergeant Justin Giesendaffer of Arizona.

We honor our Hometown Hero before each race during our Operation: Hire Our Guard employment program. An award is presented to the Guardsman by a high ranking National Guard Officer and – when they’re available to attend an IndyCar event – a Medal of Honor Recipient. Then they are the first introduced on the Pre-Race stage in front of all of the fans while their service record is read. During the five years we’ve had the Hometown Hero program it has become one of the hallmarks of race weekend and has been developed into a retention tool by the National Guard.

Employer Outreach Summary
Panther’s initial missions with the National Guard was to help recruit and retain its force and provide access for hundreds of soldiers at each event. But high unemployment has increased the challenge for all of us, and Panther Racing has a responsibility to help and a platform and place to make a difference.  

We ask our military to do more every day—often with fewer resources than the previous year. When Panther’s budget from DOD was cut last year by millions – like most DOD programs – we did not cut our employment program.  Instead, we expanded our program and pledged to do more. Our team raised more than $1.1 million from private sources like TriWest and Lincoln Education to assist Operation: Hire Our Guard and to ensure, despite cutbacks, we were still doing everything in our power to be a positive partner for the National Guard.

Last year our events provided Veterans exposure to approximately 9,300 job opportunities and based on a conservative approach, potentially over 4,300 Guardsmen have been employed as a result of our program. While our employment program is a small dent in the 65,000 estimated unemployed Guardsmen, our efforts will increase in 2013 as our partnerships and programs grow.

Recommendations to combat unemployment:
1.    Educate “centers of influence” on the overall value of the National Guard.
2.    Utilize unique forums to get employers out of the office to hear the unemployment message.
3.    Continue to use non-traditional high-power methods like the Panther/National Guard employment effort to gain access to business leaders.  We attract business leaders to our events because of the sport and use Hollywood style media presentations to educate and excite them to become involved in the Guard community and engage in hiring.
4.    Panther has used sports to promote Guard employment and it works—now, encourage others to do it.  Every major sporting event in our country such as the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Masters etc. should have something similar to Panther’s “Operation: Hire Our Guard.”  By combining the star power of pinnacle sporting events with the emotional impact of “Hometown Heroes” stories and the respect employers have for military leaders, these can be unique, effective forums for finding jobs.
5.    Engage and educate potential employers, and especially Human Resources professionals, about PTS.   Greater awareness, education, and training tailored to debunking myths about PTS are needed with leadership from the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs.
6.    Promote the utilization of the Dollar General “model” which partners with local ESGRs Transition Assistance Coordinators and others to help soldiers and airmen in advance of a hiring fair prepare (resume writing, presentation, dress, verbal communicate, and follow-up efforts etc.).  We have learned that “cold call” job fairs are not as effective as those with training in advance for employers and troops.  
7.    Educate business leaders about the need to have some form of “translation” or “job skills conversion” and utilize such an application on their employment web pages. H2H has an outstanding MOS converter and should be utilized widely.

Overview of Our Relationship with National Guard—A Marketing Platform
Our relationship with the National Guard began with the primary mission of assisting in recruiting, retention, marketing and branding.  What is unique for Panther is that our primary partner does not exist due to a product or a service, but something much more valuable: Its ability to ensure the safety and security of our Nation, States and all of its communities through the efforts of Citizen Soldiers.

To effectively market, the Guard needs targeted, but flexible, methods.  We want our next generation of warriors to be intelligent, competitive and athletic.   The National Guard and other entities have found sports marketing to be one of the leading tools available to connect with this target audience.

Today’s young men and women live so much differently than when we were young.  Each day they are confronted with thousands and thousands of different social mediums competing for their attention. The same is true with their “influencers” such as parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches.  The day of relying upon traditional methods such as dominant mediums in recruiting and retention are long gone.  The Marines, for example, say they must make over 10,000 touches to attain 67 accessions.  

As you know, the National Guard is unique in many ways, including its mission.  As a good friend of mine frequently says about the Guard, ”It’s the Greatest Story Never Told.”  Because of legal prohibitions, it is prohibited from traditional advertising on over-the-air broadcast television, so the efforts to attract and retain the true “citizen solider” all the more challenging.  However, Panther is allowed to advertise and it helps the Guard get its message to the targeted audience.

Mission Points:  Marketing
To fully understand the National Guard, our team immersed itself into all aspects of the National Guard’s unique dual mission and their essential relationship with our Nation and their community. Once we had an understanding of its mission and goals, Panther was able to develop targeted marking and branding efforts to help the Guard focus on its specific market from which to recruit its future warriors. Our industry is measured in milliseconds and always has to squeeze the last penny out of every dollar, so Panther prides itself in delivering the maximum impact from every asset.  

Since 2009 we have had over 14.5 billion calculated impressions upon viewers with a media value of over $142.1 million.  These impressions were made through a diverse group of outlets, including: traditional television and radio commercials via race-day broadcasts; a “FanZone” activation area where over 225,000 fans attend annually; track jumbotron announcements; race program ads; print and radio appearances; social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube with produced video pieces; at-track signage; and a specifically logoed National Guard IndyCar 2-seater.

We provide tickets, credentials, food and recognition to thousands of National Guard soldiers and their families each year—a great retention tool.  The FanZone is a great opportunity to recruit and network at each race event. Every visitor leaves behind his or her contact info plus completes a questionnaire regarding interest in the Guard for follow up. Our Infield Training Unit (ITU) is used by the state to educate our soldiers regarding employment and other pertinent issues relative to life in the Guard.

After being introduced to the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program in 2008, Panther has helped raise over $850,000 in scholarships for the graduating Cadets. Our team hosts select Youth ChalleNGe Cadets at each IndyCar race event where there is a ChalleNGe program in the state, congratulating them on their life-changing accomplishments and educate them on career opportunities in motorsports.

We also work to lift up those who have sacrificed so much. I will never forget my experience after arriving at the Brooke Army Hospital in 2008; I met a wounded warrior who was wearing a black and yellow smiley tee shirt with the words “Got Burns”. When I’m having a bad day, I think of that soldier. He never complained about his injury. But he did in a silent way display to all that saw him that day a huge statement:  “Life goes on. Don’t complain. Finish the mission. Move on.” I think of that day a lot. Panther continues to take the No. 4 racecar and the team’s drivers to visit wounded and injured service members at the VA Polytrauma Centers in Tampa, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; Palo Alto, California; and as I mentioned, the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas.

The privilege of visiting these facilities, meeting our Nation’s heroes (and their families) and seeing their courage and determination is unlike anything I have experienced in my lifetime. I don’t say this to bring recognition to our organization, or myself, but instead to encourage others to do the same. The long rehabilitation that faces these brave men and women is very lonely. They need our support. They need to be assured that they will not be forgotten. I also guarantee you it will change your lives forever.

Mission Points: Synergies
Our partnership with the Guard has turned out to be so much more than marketing, recruiting and retention. While visiting with our Hometown Hero of Kentucky in 2008, I learned of the serious injuries impacting our soldiers while they performed their duties, including the prevalence of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

I asked how a specific soldier was hurt and learned he had been a Buffalo driver responsible for finding IED’s in front of a convoy. After being virtually blown up several times, he was finally taken off his job. I ask him what the G-force impact was from these blasts and was very surprised to find out that the impact was not recorded in any way.

As a result, I took the Adjutant General of the Kentucky National Guard to the IndyCar series research trailer at the track, where he was shown the devices that we had used since 1997 to accurately measure the impact to our drivers. Like the military, we often deal with serious head injuries in racing.   We utilize a state-of-the-art ear-sensor technology to measure the G-force impact to a driver’s head in the event of an accident. These sensors record specific detail on the impact to the driver, which has been instrumental in on-site treatment, in long-term care and the development of better equipment to protect our athletes. The General was very surprised to find that IndyCar had successfully been measuring this for such a long time.  I learned about the millions of dollars that had been invested, unsuccessfully, to develop sensor technology to help protect our troops. After that event, every time we raced and an Adjutant General attended, we showed them this technology and other devices that had been designed by our sport.

After hearing about this, our partner Dave McIntyre of TriWest Healthcare spoke to the Vice Chief of the Army, General Peter Chiarelli, about our concussion recording devices. Two days later we were asked to the Pentagon to show him what had been used in our industry.  After reviewing it and commenting on the simplicity of the devices, General Chiarelli asked if I were there to sell him this technology.  I made it very clear that Panther would donate any asset that could help our troops at no cost. Under his direction, we made various visits to Army medical facilities around the country to provide experts from our field to discuss the benefits of the collection of this data.

Eventually, a form of the technology that was given to the Army was modified, with the help of the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF), and is now repurposed as the Integrated Blast Effects Sensor Suite (I-BESS).  The Army deployed 4,000 of these new body-worn sensors in Afghanistan to measure and help understand how intense impacts such as explosions and vehicle accidents affect the human body.  Each unit contains four sensors that communicate with one another along with an armored vehicle based system that has additional sensors for more data acquisition.  

The data collected goes to the Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program—where medical professionals and engineers will have access to the database to help better protect our soldiers. Most importantly, the I-BESS system detects TBI in soldiers who have experienced an adverse event and helps our neurosurgeons treat the patient.   

We are humbled to have played a small role in helping our combat troops with TBI.  Just to be a small part of the public/private partnership here will always keep us engaged in any way possible to help our National Guard soldiers.

Panther has continued to work on additional synergies and is currently discussing designs of the seats used in our IndyCar, which could potentially help helicopter pilots who have high rates of spinal injuries due to landings. This seat technology has helped reduce spinal injuries by over 80% in our industry.

Conclusion
Mr. Chairman, it has been an honor to be here today. I respect the trust that has been placed in each member of this subcommittee to care for our Nation’s most sacred population. My goal was to share some of the successes that that our team has deployed to address unemployment in the National Guard.

We feel a special calling to help ensure those who have served in uniform have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. We know we bring significant assets to the effort, and we want to use them most efficiently.

When a business leader has a “bucket list” day while experiencing the Panther program, we know they’re leaving with a greater understanding of the Guard.  It’s those business leaders who will be a supportive employer, and will advocate policies and practices that support our Veterans.  A Guardsman with a good job, at a company that respects and supports his/her service, is a National Guardsman we retain for a long time.

Our success has always been measured by victories on the track.  But that was when we were just a racing team.  Today, we are a military service and marketing company working to help the National Guard meet its goals for recruiting, retention, branding and now employment.   

I would trade any race win in exchange for one more job for a member of the Guard.  Ensuring the Guard’s success is our mission and Operation: Hire Our Guard is a huge part of that effort.  I spend every day thinking how our team can do better. The attributes these men and women bring to employers – intelligence, leadership, selflessness and dedication – can lift any company in the same way they have always lifted our Nation.

What troubles me most is that I cannot see a day in my future when there will be a ticker-tape parade to celebrate what all of the Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have done for our Nation.  What I hope I will see is the day when all these great Veterans have meaningful employment.  Our nation owes them no less, because they have sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms.

I invite each of you to visit Panther Racing and experience what we do, and, more importantly, to discover new ways that we can do better and improve our efforts on behalf of our magnificent military forces and their families.  Thank you for this opportunity, and I welcome your questions and comments.