ST. ALBANS — On July 13, St Albans resident and Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Steve Hernandez spent his day teaching civilians how to fire guns at Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho.
Those civilians were the employers of guard members, invited to the range to familiarize themselves with some of the tools guard members use in the field, and to learn more about military culture. The advocacy group Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve organized the event.
Since 1971, the Department of Defense-supported group has worked to build better relationships between employers and guard members through outreach and education. The idea is to lessen the strain that sometimes comes when workers are called away to serve.
Mike Ferrant is the ESGR ombudsman, and served three deployments in the Army Reserves as an engineer, leaving three different jobs to do so.
“I’ve seen the way an employer can react to having their employee taken away,” said Ferrant. “It can be a strain for a smaller company to lose workers to deployment, and sometimes that job is not waiting for the soldier when they return. “
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 seeks to eliminate discrimination against deployed employees, and ensure they are promptly reemployed upon returning from duty. Of course, that is not always the case. Ferrant said education and bridge building through understanding is better than going to litigation.
On this day, the employers were firing the Browning .50 caliber machine gun as a way to learn more about their employees’ other occupation, and as a social activity. It’s a big gun, in service since the end of the First World War. Hernandez serves as an instructor on the range, and also as the range safety officer. He joined the guard in 2007 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 with the 172nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain). He said the efforts of ESGR, and opportunities to bring in civilians for time on the firing range is useful.
“We have a very critical mission,” said Hernandez. “We’re not only a force for home protection, we deploy in conflicts overseas as well, and it’s good for employers to learn more about what we do.”
Hernandez also works for the guard as a civilian contractor, doing veterans outreach, helping returning soldiers to find resources in the community.
Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Paul Judge was also out on the range. He said engaging with the public always goes a long way toward understanding.
“We want them to be able to actually do it and see it,” said Judge.