FORT HOOD, Texas -- A group of employers and elected officials traveled here Jan. 16, to visit citizen-Soldiers from the New Jersey Army National Guard's 117th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion going through their demobilization process after an almost one-year deployment to Afghanistan.
Under the watchful eyes of Division West's 120th Infantry Brigade, which oversees all demobilizations on Fort Hood, the employers got a snapshot of the meticulous and thorough process reserve component Soldiers go through when coming back from combat.
"Given what the Soldier and their family has to sacrifice to protect us, I thought it was important to give my time to see what actually happens and then figure out how we can help them as an elected official," said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano of Mercer and Middlesex Counties.
The New Jersey Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the state branch of the national organization that promotes support by employers of National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, organized the visit.
Quijano said the eye-opening de-mobilization took care of medical issues with things such as hearing and medical exams. "I didn't realize how important it is to make sure that, when our Guardsmen return, we make sure that there is a smooth transition for them," she said.
The 117th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion was deployed while Superstorm Sandy pounded the northeastern United States, so employers felt relieved to find that the Soldiers' families and property were relatively safe from the storm. One Soldier had a problem with a roof, but family members took care of it.
Maj. Edward Dowgin, the 117th's executive officer, managed to mail an American flag flown over the unit's compound at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, to John McKenna, strength conditioning coach at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, N.J.
Dowgin and McKenna's friendship developed when the two formed a partnership where McKenna began strength training a lot of the 117th's Soldiers on his own time, for free. The Soldiers also did strength conditioning with the high school's football players.
"He helped get us better prepared for our deployment," Dowgin said.
"I like to give back to people who make sacrifices," said McKenna. "His son plays youth football in the area, and I am also a football coach. I also believe in country first, so I try to teach my kids a little respect and a little commitment. When the major sent that flag to me, what we did is carry that flag out onto the field every game."
The ESGR frequently conducts "boss lift" visits such as this one throughout the country. Boss lifts familiarize, educate and promote military and employer relations, via employers, business and elected leaders connecting with their employees who are servicemembers.
Division West routinely hosts boss lifts on Fort Hood and its other active mobilization training center, Fort Bliss, Texas.