MG Timothy E. Orr
Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and members of the subcommittee:
It’s a great privilege to be here today representing the 9,400 Soldiers and Airmen of the Iowa National Guard in this important discussion to maximize employment opportunities for National Guard members. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this topic and provide perspective on the State of Iowa’s initiatives to address this important issue.
The Iowa Experience
First let me begin by saying that Iowa is unique in many ways. Thankfully, our state and region currently have lower unemployment rates than those seen in other parts of the country. The employers in our state are military and veteran friendly and we enjoy incredible support from our communities. The level of cooperation between our employment and education partners, including private sector job creators, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), Iowa Work Force Development, Job Connection Education Program, the Iowa Department of Education, community colleges, and the Society of Human Resource Managers is outstanding. In addition, Governor Branstad has provided key leadership to drive employment opportunities for our National Guard members.
While we remain focused on those with employment challenges, we are fortunate to have seen tremendous improvement in overall employment numbers for those who have returned from the state’s largest deployment since World War II. We currently estimate, based on data collected during our deployment outprocessing and reintegration events, that the unemployment rate of our returning warriors fell from a high of 25 percent in August 2011 to a current rate of just under 10 percent. Though we still have work to do in this area, we are very happy to see this remarkable improvement among our returning warriors.
I truly believe the success we’ve seen in this area is a result of steps we took long before the 2,800 members of our brigade combat team deployed to Afghanistan. Because of its size and scope, we knew this deployment would have a significant effect on our state including our families, our employers and our communities. Through a series of “Lunch & Learn” engagements, townhall meetings, predeployment briefings and other public engagements we initiated an information awareness campaign to build support and deepen understanding between servicemembers and employers regarding the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA). In conjunction with ESGR, we initiated a series of employer bosslifts, bringing employers to our Annual Training and post deployment training sites to witness firsthand the important and complex work their Citizen-Soldiers were doing in preparation to deploy overseas.
From the beginning, we knew we had to work together to minimize the disruption and confusion caused by such a significant deployment on our state’s employers. I invited Dick Rue, our state ESGR Chair, to stand with me to help answer questions about the rights and responsibilities of both employers and their Citizen-Soldiers during our press conference announcing the deployment. We often talk about the service and sacrifice of our servicemembers and their families. In Iowa, we know employers also sacrifice when their Citizen-Soldiers deploy and we work hard to acknowledge that through ESGR engagements and employer recognition events.
Tool Box Solutions
Though this information campaign was important we knew it would not be enough based on what other states experienced following large deployments. Opening up our “Tool Box” we started looking at ESGR, National Guard Bureau and other state and federal employment programs designed to assist returning warriors. One of the most important steps we took was to nest our employment and education counselors in order to emphasize these areas during the demobilization process. Working together, they counseled returning warriors on employment and education programs and benefits available to assist with their transition from active duty. Thanks to this integration, an additional 900 of our returning warriors indicated their intent to enroll in school than were students when the deployment began. We screened members as they out processed and attended reintegration events to identify those struggling with employment issues and link them up with assistance through our Jobs Connection Education Program and online job search and application programs.
Working with our employment partners, we developed a one-day course designed to assist our unemployed or underemployed warriors. We help them write resumes and cover letters that translate their military experience into meaningful civilian skills. We work on interviewing techniques and skills in order to prepare them for job fairs and interviews.
Through our partnerships with Iowa Workforce Development, we placed computers kiosks in our armories to assist our warriors with finding and applying for job openings. Last October we supported, with other state and federal agencies, a Veterans’ job fair and began posting job openings, targeting veterans on websites like the National Guard’s Jobs Connection Education Program and Employer Partnership.
The Iowa Department of Education and the US Department of Veterans Affairs have teamed up to develop a program designed to assist veterans and their dependents by allowing them to learn a trade or skill through participation in apprenticeship or on-the-job training rather than by attending academic classes. Veterans and service members eligible for the GI Bill may use these benefits for apprenticeship or on-the-job training. This program allows a military veteran or servicemember to enter into a training contract for a specific period of time with an employer or union and then after the training period, the trainee is given job certification or journeyman status. In most cases, the veteran trainee receives a salary from the employer or union while participating in the program. As they progress through the program and their skill level increases, so does their salary. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides monthly GI Bill payments for veterans or service members in approved programs. This is another great example of the team approach we have taken in Iowa to assist our returning warriors.
While we still have a lot to do to ensure employment opportunities for all of our returning warriors, we have made significant progress. We will continue to work to enhance our tool kit to help our warriors like working with our state legislature to assist with legislation that better aligns state licensure requirements with military specialty skills and working with our employment and private sector partners to continue to identify job opportunities for our warriors.
Our Iowa National Guard Soldiers and Airmen continue to be “Mission Focused and Warrior Ready”. Over 15,000 Iowa National Guard members have served and sacrificed in support of ongoing contingency operations here at home and across the world, many on multiple occasions. They, along with their families and employers, have borne a heavy burden to help ensure our Nation’s safety and security. They did so willingly and have asked little in return. Working together, at every level, we have a responsibility to assist those struggling with unemployment issues related to their military service. I greatly appreciate the Subcommittee’s work on this issue and I look forward to your questions on our efforts to help our returning warriors.