Group cites Punxsy district for support of National Guard, Reserve

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Punxsy school Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe said he took part in ROTC as a college student, but that was his closest experience with the military until he took part in a program offered by the Pennsylvania Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR).

During the Punxsutawney Area School Board’s voting meeting Monday, Del Spafford, northwest area ombudsman for the ESGR, presented Wolfe with two certificates, one thanking Wolfe and the district for its support of the National Guard and Reserve, and another saluting the district recognizing that the Guard and Reserve are essential to the strength of the nation and the well-being of communities.

The certificates are given with recognition and appreciation by the Army National Guard; the U.S. Army Reserves; the U.S. Marine Corps; the U.S. Navy Reserve; the Air National Guard; the Air Force Reserve Command; and the U.S. Coast Guard and Reserves.

The ESGR welcomes employers, school officials and others to an annual event in May at the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Center, Annville, Lebanon County, to see what kind of training Guard and Reserve members undergo.

Wolfe said there was a whole array of different activities, including working on simulators that utilize different weapons and systems. One such program simulated using a .50 caliber machine gun, which, instead of using live rounds at $5 a shell, operated through a computer the full capabilities of the weapon, and took inventory of the simulated shots, hits and shells used.

A flight simulator put users into the seats of all kinds of different helicopters, while another activity had participants flying aboard a live chopper for about 15 minutes.

The participants also viewed mock situations in which a village commander chastised upcoming U.S. troops into a town; and how units accompanying a vehicle respond to roadside explosives.

Wolfe said after the activities, participants had the chance to talk to actual Guard and Reserve troops, who came from all walks of life: Teaching, construction, “a multitude of backgrounds,” he said.

After receiving the certificates, Wolfe said he has at times regretted not taking on a military career. He took part in ROTC, but later followed a different career path in college.

He noted, however, that his experience with ESGR at Fort Indiantown Gap opened his eyes once again.

“I can say that if I had been exposed to this in high school, I would not be here,” Wolfe said. “I would have been in the military.”

He said he would suggest to other superintendents within the Riverview Intermediate Unit 6 that they also take part in ESGR’s program at Fort Indiantown Gap.

Other Punxsy school officials — such as board President Gary Conrad, board members Bob Pascuzzo and Penny Pifer, and PAMS Principal Richard Britten — have also taken part in the program.

The voluntary, all retired members of ESGR serve as ombudsmen, but also as investigators for the Department of Defense.

If a soldier had a complaint or feels mistreated in his or her workplace, under the law, he or she files a complaint with the Department of Defense, which then calls upon ESGR members to investigate.

These volunteers point out to the company what the law states as it pertains to National Guard and Reservists, as well as where there may be a mistake in understanding the law.

“If we can mediate it, we do, but if we can’t, then the soldier’s next step is the Department of Labor,” Spafford said. “Our sole purpose is to solve the problem, and make sure soldier has fair treatment without upsetting the employer.”

As ombudsmen, the ESGR volunteers also offer briefings to business about the law, which states that if a soldier must depart a job for active duty for a year, he or she must be able to return to that job as if nothing had happened. Also, the soldier is entitled to a promotion or raise, if he or she was up for that promotion or raise at the time of the deployment.

“The whole object is for better relations, because the business world and military is a partnership today,” said Spafford, who has volunteered for ESGR for 18 years.