Extended Deployments Could Hurt Work Prospects of Citizen Soldiers

By Staff Report

Jan. 12, 2007

The Pentagon’s decision to extend active-duty requirements for citizen soldiers in the National Guard or reserves could take a toll on both civilian employers and employees.

The new policy could require citizen soldiers to be on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan for as long as 48 months—an initial tour could last up to 24 months, followed by a return to civilian life and then a second mobilization round that could be additional stretch of 24 months. By contrast, the old policy limited active-duty requirements in Iraq or Afghanistan to 24 consecutive months.

“Employers are not going to be happy with this new policy,” says Ted Daywalt, president of VetJobs, an online job board for individuals who have served in the military. “They are already up in arms about the pressure that the old, less severe system is placing on their business.”

Some 1.3 million citizen soldiers who work in a wide spectrum of industries could be affected by the lift in traditional caps.

The expansion of active duty may hit small employers hardest. According to Daywalt, 70 percent to 80 percent of individuals in the National Guard or reserves work for companies with 300 to 500 employees. Some firms are even smaller. He cites a Houston-based machine shop which lost 12 of its 21 workers virtually overnight when they were called on active duty in Afghanistan in 2002.

“The owner of the shop had difficulties complying with his contracts because more than half of his workforce was missing,” Daywalt says. “I can assure you that this has not been an isolated case.”

The threat of diminished productivity is not the only source of worry for employers. Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, companies are required to continue providing certain benefits for family members of the individuals who are on duty as well as ensure employment of citizen soldiers when they return from their missions.

Employers didn’t mind incurring these and other financial responsibilities when the tours of duty were less frequent and shorter in duration, Daywalt explains. But the escalation in requirements has been changing this landscape.

Daywalt warns that the new policy will aggravate the situation and make it unpalatable for companies to hire an individual who is enlisted with the National Guard or reserves.

“Why would anybody want to hire an individual who may called away for two years only to return for a just a few months and then be mobilized for another two years?” Daywalt says. “Companies are not going to be happy about this.”

Gina Ruiz


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