A military reservist serving in a combat zone shouldn’t have to worry about a job back home or how to pay the mortgage, federal and military officials said Friday.
"They need to keep their heads very much in the game, because it is dangerous where they’re going," said Maj. Gen. Robert Ostenberg, who commands 12,000 U.S. Army reservists in Arizona, California and Nevada.
Ostenberg’s remarks came at a news conference to remind employers that the jobs of deployed military reservists are protected under federal law.
Leaders from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Arizona National Guard, the U.S. Department of Labor, and Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a group that works with employers and reservists, also attended the conference.
Judy Victor, Arizona’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve spokeswoman, said that although the National Guard is decreasing in size, it will be working more closely with the regular military.
"That means our reserve forces will be spending more and more time away from their jobs," Victor said. And that will place more of a burden on employers, she said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 4,100 Arizonans have been called to active duty in the Guard and Reserve, and about 1,000 are active now, said Paul Charlton, U.S. attorney for Arizona.
"Those individuals deserve to know that we will do our very best to make sure they can still make a living when they come back from having served their country, they can still keep their homes and that they can still get those promotions that they so richly deserve," Charlton said.
Just a few employers have violated the law, which Charlton chalked up to ignorance.
Violators can face civil fines, but Charlton said his office has never prosecuted anyone because conflicts between returning service personnel and their employers have been resolved in the early stages.
Since October 2003, the Department of Labor has investigated 24 cases in Arizona and about 1,200 nationwide, said Michael Espinosa, the department’s Phoenix office director.
Charlton said reservists called to duty also have a right under federal law to break residential leases and have interest rates on all loans decreased to 6 percent.