Jones gave the soldier a fictitious name, but that didn't make the story any less poignant. The soldier, according to Jones, had been in-country almost three years, extending his tour again and again. He simply didn't want to go home.
Jones asked him why, and found the answer shocking.
"He said he'd never find a job if he went home. He figured it was better for him and his family if he stayed right where he was," Jones said.
Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve works to foster good relations between the reserve components and businesses that employ Guard and Reserve members.
Each June, ESGR invites employers and community leaders in Idaho, Oregon and Montana to Gowen Field, where they interact with service members. They try out some gear, take part in training exercises and generally get a taste of what life is like in the Army and Air National Guards.
Jack Johnson, ESGR's Area 6 chairman, raises a Union County contingent each year. For this year's event, people he brought along included Tom Insko, manager of Boise Cascade's Inland Region; Debbie Gargalis, the local Work Source Oregon manager; Daniel Pokorney, mayor of La Grande; Kim Bowman, owner of Bowman Trucking; and Kevin Loveland, owner of Loveland Funeral Chapel and a past president of the Union County Chamber of Commerce.
Through two action-packed days, the Boss Lift participants took part in activities ranging from flights in a Blackhawk helicopter, to mock convoy operations, to video-simulated firefights and more. Gargalis, for one, said it was an exciting time.
"It was absolutely amazing," she said. "It's something every employer of a Guard or Reserve member needs to attend. They'll walk away with a better understanding of what their citizen-soldiers do."
At assemblies and a banquet, participants also listened to speakers who emphasized the important role employers play in the national defense effort. Among the speakers was Maj. Gen Raymond F. Rees, adjutant general for the Oregon National Guard.
"The soldiers are showing courage and commitment every day, and they couldn't get the job done without the support of their employers," Rees said in a talk with the La Grande contingent.
Currently, the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team is on deployment in Iraq. The unit includes more than 500 soldiers in the La Grande-headquartered Third Battalion.
The soldiers are due home in September. Johnson and others are stepping up efforts to make sure as many as possible have employment when they return.
Everybody involved is trying to get ahead of the curve. Overseas, unit leaders have been holding classes on resume writing and interview techniques. At home, Johnson and others have mounted a pilot project -- the ESGR Employment Initiative Program-- aimed at helping soldiers find jobs.
"Our main thrust is to try and do something about the unemployment rate among reserves. It's extremely high," Johnson said.
Johnson has been working to arrange video interviews between soldiers in Iraq and potential employers in Area 6, which lies along the Interstate 84 corridor between The Dalles and Ontario. In the early stages of the project, Insko and Gargalis are key players.
"I'm pleased to be part of this," Insko said. "Boise Cascade has two local employees on duty with the unit. I look forward to their return, and that of the whole battalion."
With Insko's backing, Boise Cascade will be the first area business to take part in the video conferencing.
In the meantime, Work Source Oregon (the Oregon Employment Department) has been working with unit leadership and individual soldiers to gather information that will be helpful.
"We're helping prepare the soldiers," said Gargalis. "We're getting their skills into our I-Match system, identifying where the soldiers are in terms of employment and where they want to be. We're taking that information and working with employers here."
The interviews, facilitated by the Guard and Work Source Oregon, will be conducted at the armory in La Grande's Blue Mountain Conference Center.
Johnson remains busy getting other employers in Area 6 signed up. He said the Boss Lift helped.
"We talked to a number of who are interested," he said.
For more information about ESGR or the Employment Initiative Program, contact Johnson, 541-568-4204.
For more information on ESGR, visit the Military.com Benefits Center.