State awarded 5-star status as a patriotic employer By Susan Smith PIERRE � On Feb. 12 some of the more than 800 members of the South Dakota National Guard and Reserve currently serving overseas began to come home.
"Hopefully within the next 30 days we will have approximately 70-some men and women serving overseas," Gov. Mike Rounds said. "But at this time we will be bringing nearly 800 members of our guard back into South Dakota.
"This is a very emotional, and yet a very joyous occasion to bring these airmen and soldiers home."
And most of those men and women will go back to the jobs they left.
Marshall Michels, a lieutenant colonel in the South Dakota National Guard and the state executive director for the Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said South Dakota has had few instances where returning service people were did not retain their former jobs.
"We've been very fortunate in South Dakota," Michels said. "Our employers, they've been outstanding supporters of our guard and reservists."
The few instances that occurred were due to layoffs.
"They would have had those problems if they were here or not," Michels said.
For the most part employers have gone above and beyond the call of duty, he said, even shoveling sidewalks, delivering meals and completing home repairs for family members of those serving.
"By and large we have great support and no problems," he said.
Rounds signed a "5-Star" Statement of Support Feb. 11 for South Dakota's guard and reserve members. By signing that statement the state will be recognized by the Department of Defense as a patriotic employer, said Don Kelpin, acting South Dakota chair of the Committee for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, which is an agency of the Department of Defense.
"I want to emphasize just how important the National Guard is to the citizens of South Dakota," Rounds said. "But also in terms of what they do for us on a regular basis on their state mission. They help us in times of emergency and crisis."
The 5-Star designation confirms that the state has complied with the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act Law, promoted training of administrators to help them manage guard and reserve employees, adopted programs above what are required by the USERRA Law, and helped promote service in the guard and reserve.
"Less than 1 percent of employers of the guardsmen and reservists in the United States have achieved the '5-Star' level of recognition by the Department of Defense," Kelpin said in a news release.
South Dakota employs about 140 guard and reserve members. Rounds said he's tried to set an example in the way state government has treated those employees. The state allows guard members to attend training each year to maintain required proficiency in their duties. Young people working for the state are encouraged to join the guard and reserve. And positions have remained open for those serving in Iraq.
"I can only once again offer my firm support for the mission of the guard and say thank you to all those families that are out there right now that have had loved ones away from this country for more than a year," Rounds said.
The Committee for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is an information agency for employers of guard and reserve members.