Employers Get Eyes Above Skies of East Tennessee

5/14/2014 - MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -- Employers looked in the eyes of a pilot flying at an altitude of 21,000 feet and an indicated air speed of 265 knots here May 6 during an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve orientation flight.

Each of the 30 participants laid on their stomachs next to a boom operator and peered through the rear panoramic window on a KC-135 Stratotanker as it transferred jet fuel to a C-17 Globemaster III.

"It was amazing," said Michele Tulloss, a human resources manager in Maryville, Tenn. "I've always seen those planes from the ground, and now I know what they do up there."
Tulloss said she also enjoyed meeting other employers and learning about the resources for supporting employed veterans and service members.

ESGR requested a mission briefing and orientation flight from the 134th Air Refueling Wing to create a positive atmosphere.

The Wing Commander, Col. Thomas Cauthen, talked about the history of the base, its current missions, and its economic impact on the local community.

"We hope you see that, even though our traditional guardsmen work part-time, they're just as professional as our active-duty counterparts, and add value to our country and the companies they work for full-time," said Cauthen.

The employers then split in two groups and headed out to the runway.
One group refueled a C-17 from Charleston Air Force Base, N.C., and the other group refueled a C-17 from the 164th Airlift Wing in Memphis, Tenn., which simultaneously hosted 32 employers on an orientation flight.

"They see these big airplanes take off and land and have no idea that the Guard is the primary reserve force of the Department of Defense supporting federal missions," said a retired major general who supported the event.

ESGR recognizes outstanding employer support with local and national awards, and one of the pilots flying today's mission nominated his employer for a certificate of appreciation.

Capt. Willis Parker works fulltime for an auto parts manufacturing company in Athens, Tenn.  "This is a great way to reward them for taking care of me while I was deployed," said Parker.

"Seeing them in another way is humbling because we know they're great, but now we see how great they are in their military job, which they do part-time," said Parker's employer and company's President. He noted that Parker paid great attention to detail piloting his aircraft, and that skill "aligned perfectly" with his position as a quality engineer in modern technical manufacturing.

The Hero to Hired program provides employment resources for small, medium and large companies who want to hire veterans and members of the Guard and Reserve.
 
"We have an open policy regarding veterans," said Ron Bonacci, a vice president for marketing for a large, local supermarket chain. "They are extremely professional, and we support them at work as well as by sponsoring multiple veteran give-back programs."
Bonacci said their 117 stores have flexibility with the full-time and part-time staff to accommodate deploying service members.

The ESGR staff and volunteers said they also aim to resolve conflicts arising from a lack of information about laws and policies.  "Guard members have made a tough decision to leave an employer that was unsympathetic to their military duty, so we'd prefer to educate the employer before it comes to that," said an ESGR representative.

ESGR representatives said that the mission briefings and orientation flights reassure and support employers and their employees.

"During a time of intense government budget cuts, it's important for these employers to understand how their corporate and income tax dollars are used to prepare our Air National Guard members for their national defense mission and that their seat on the plane didn't cost any extra money," said Bob Williams, Tennessee ESGR representative.