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Raising awareness: reservists playing key role in educating country's lawmakers.

As the number of reservist and guardsmen mobilized for the war on terrorism has climbed to more than 200,000, Congress has increased its focus on helping the reserve components.

From newly introduced bills to enhance benefits to efforts to support families and employers, reserve issues have come to the forefront in both the House and Senate. And reservists are playing a key role in raising lawmakers' awareness of the issues most important to them.

On April 3, a reservist from Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind., joined six other National Guard and Reserve members to address a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and answer questions about the price military reservists are paying to help defend the nation.

Master Sgt. Kevin Smith, a logistics plans technician, was mobilized Sept. 19, 2001, for Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom and remained on active duty for a year. During that time, he deployed with other members of Air Force Reserve Command's 434th Air Refueling Wing to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; Misawa Air Base, Japan; and a classified location in the Persian Gulf. He spent more than a third of his time on active duty serving overseas. The rest he spent at Grissom performing logistics plans duties for the KC-135 air refueling unit.

"I've heard the rumors, as have many reservists, that some reservists are not performing the duties they have been trained for but rather are being used as backfill for those on active duty who forward deploy," he testified. "This was not true for me. We have trained to the same standards as the active force for my entire career, and it paid big dividends when we reached the first location."

Smith said the hardest part of the activation for him was the short notice he received before being required to report for duty. He had less than 24 hours to make sure things were in order at home and say goodbye to his family.

To help him get through the experience, Smith said he relied on support from family members, friends, neighbors and people within Grissom's Family Readiness Office.

"These were the key individuals who created organization and peace of mind when it needed to happen," he said.

Because of the short notice, Smith was unable to find someone to take his place at his civilian job.

"I am one of the fortunate few whose employer provides wages to cover the pay gap (between military and civilian wages) when employees are mobilized," Smith said. In addition, his employer continued providing health and life insurance during his mobilization.

The sergeant said once things got going he settled into a routine.

"Within our unit, traditional reservists and full-time reservists shared the same responsibilities," he said. "We were there to complete a mission, regardless of our previous status. Everyone worked hard and together to get the job done. I believe this also held true between our unit and the active-duty forces that we were assigned to work with."

Smith concluded his comments by thanking the subcommittee members for their interest in the military members" well being and Congress' continued support for families and employers of reservists.

In addition to direct testimony, AFRC offers other ways for reservists to provide lawmakers with timely, accurate and consistent information. The traditional method of surfacing various issues and ideas is to submit them through the chain of command. Also, reservists can propose ideas through the Air Force Reserve Advisory Board and the Office of Air Force Reserve's Policy Integration Directorate in the Pentagon.

The AFRAB accepts any issue or initiative, from addressing existing situations to considering the most creative idea, allowing each reservist to be a catalyst for change. For information about how to submit an idea for consideration, visit the board's Web site (http://www.afrc.af.mil/special/afrab /afrab.htm).

The Policy Integration Directorate, which goes by the designation REI, deals with all legislative issues for the command at the Air Staff level. The directorate recently expanded AFRC's congressional outreach program, which ensures lawmakers are aware of the Air Force Reserve and its significant contributions to the nation's defense.

REI staffers set up visits for Lt. Gen. James E. Sherrard III, AFRC commander, and wing commanders with congressional members, provide briefings to professional and personal staffs of congressional members and their committees, and answer questions posed by U.S. senators and representatives.

"All reservists should be aware that their voice matters because congressional members are interested in what their constituents have to say," said Wayne Gracie, director of REI. "Our goal is to facilitate communication between Air Force reservists and Congress. We have a great story to tell."

More information about REI is available on its Web site (http://www.re.hq.af.mil/rei).

(Information for this story provided by Tech. Sgt. Doug Hays, 434th ARW Office of Public Affairs, Grissom ARB, and AFRC News Service.)
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Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:815
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