Civilian employers visit mobilizing 53rd Infantry Brigade

Written by  //  October 29, 2009  //  Feature Stories

By Jon Myatt
Florida Department of Military Affairs

CAMP BLANDING (Oct. 29, 2009) – More than 70 employers and civic leaders from across the state gathered at the Florida National Guard’s major training center here today to learn about the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s deployment to Iraq and Kuwait in January.

ESGR visit to 53rd IBCT. Photo by Jon Myatt

The civic leader orientation, sponsored by the Florida National Guard and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), was aimed at providing employers and supporters of the state’s military “an understanding of the brigade’s mission and process required for getting the 2,500-member unit ready to deploy to the combat theater,” said Doug Corbett, ESGR’s state coordinator.

“ManyFlorida employers are uncertain and concerned over their responsibilities to their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserves,” said Phillip Speake, ESGR’s state chairman.  “They received informative briefings that we hope will help them understand the Soldier’s commitment, and also provide employers answers to ensure compliance with (state and federal laws).  ESGR is there to assist and provide suggestions on how best to manage their employees who serve their country in the National Guard and Reserve.”

The day’s activities began at the training center’s new Regional Training Institute with a classroom briefing given byFlorida’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, about the brigade and the training that Soldiers and units must complete to be certified ready to deploy.

From there, the employers were split into two groups to view combat training and visit weapons qualification ranges.

Employers donned flack jackets and Kevlar helmets to join infantry Soldiers in “up-armored” HMMWVs as they fired .50 caliber machine guns at targets 1,500 meters away.  As the gunners fired loud bursts from the powerful guns, many employers took photos or shot video with their digital cameras.

Other visitors looked over weapons and equipment, some sighting in targets using the infrared sight on the .50 caliber machine gun on display.

“We wanted them to have a feel for what it’s like,” said Staff Sgt. John Long, of the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, who explained the safety and personal defense capabilities of an “up-armored” HMMWV. 

Jim Cress, a senior manager with Ring Power of Jacksonville who has more than 20 employees who are members of the Guard or Reserve, echoed the thoughts of most employers who attended.  “From a business standpoint, a military member’s deployment affects more than just the position they are responsible for or the team they work with,” he said. “We have to consider the temporary replacement hired to fill-in while the service-member is gone, and we have to plan how to integrate them once they return. It is not easy. 

“While we may sacrifice some production because of the turbulence caused by their absence, we truly understand the sacrifice the Guardsman makes to serve. As a business, sure we feel it, but we understand that it is necessary,” he added.

“This program provides employers with a better insight and understanding of what the Soldiers go through to serve their country,” said Micah Adkins, with Ring Power of Jacksonville.  “The things we saw today gives us have a better appreciation of the personal sacrifices they make.”  

Kim Gaide knows all too well the sacrifices service-members make: as a senior human relations manager for Lee Memorial Health systems in Sarasota, Gaide was responsible for assisting service-members who were called up for duty at the beginning of operations in Southwest Asia.  Among the employees she worked with, four were killed in action, including Florida National Guardsman Sgt. Roy Woods, a doctor with Lee Memorial, who was killed on duty inIraq in 2004. 

As a supporter of the Guard, she jumped at the chance to attend the employer event.  “Having been personally involved with the families of service-members who did not return, I am committed to helping in any way I can,” she said.  “In our community we are pretty far away from any military installation and their support structure, so felt obligated to form our own support groups.

“We want to do everything we can to help those who are making such a significant sacrifice in the military,” she said.

According to ESGR, more than 750,000 National Guard and Reserve men and women across the United States have left their families and employers to serve on active duty in overseas contingency operations since Sept. 11, 2001. “None of that could have been possible without the strong backing from civilian employers and their support of the brave men and women who serve this great Nation, and the state of Florida,” added Speake.  “The outpouring of support from the home front has been overwhelming.”

More than 18,000 are members of the Guard and Reserve in the state of Florida, and of that number, 2,000 are currently deployed away from their loved ones and places of business.