News: Reading Reserve Center Inaugural Town Hall Meeting
Story by Spc. David Thompson
READING, PA – The U.S. Army Reading Reserve Center hosted its inaugural town hall meeting on Thursday, January 17th. The purpose of the meeting was to connect with community leaders and facilitate a discussion to help meet the needs of the Citizen-Soldiers in the Berks county community.
Reserve Soldiers have a basic obligation to the Army Reserve that requires them to serve one weekend a month and attend an annual training exercise over a two-week period. Unlike active duty Service members, unless deployed overseas, Reserve Soldiers spend most of their time as civilians. This requires Soldiers to carefully balance their civilian lives with the commitments they have as both a civilian and as a Soldier.
“We have to connect with the communities that we are part of to provide Soldiers with resources that will make them successful in both our military and their civilian worlds," said, Maj. Mary L. Olodun, commander of the 326th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment and primary organizer of the event. Connecting with local leaders is one of Olodun’s top priorities.
One of those resources is employment as many of the Soldiers at the Reading Reserve Center struggle with unemployment or underemployment.
PA State Senator Judy Schwank was present at the meeting and spoke openly about the employment issues that are facing Reserve Soldiers and veterans abroad.
“Post-9/11 veterans from ages 20 to 24, experience an unemployment rate of 28%,” said Schwank.
She commended Olodun and the other two commanders at Reading Reserve Center, Cpt. Edger Borgella, Commander of the 733rd Transportation Company, and 1st Lt. Rebecca Wilson, Commander of the 333rd Engineer Company, on their efforts to have a town hall meeting as an attempt to help Soldiers to stay well integrated in the local community.
Dr. Daniel Bulinski, Governor Mifflin School District Superintendent and retired Army Lt. Col was present, along with Veterans Affairs public relations and non-profit Veteran business owner, Elizabeth Graybill and a host of other community leaders were all present to listen to the needs of Soldiers and discuss how they may play a role in helping Soldiers find their place as a citizen of their community.
As a member of congress, Schwank said she is looking forward to the challenge of helping veterans as a member of the Senate Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee. One initiative of this committee is the Pennsylvania Military Family Relief Assistance Program.
“It provides financial assistance, in the form of grants, to eligible Pennsylvania militar service members and their family members up to $3,500,” said Schwank.
The take aways from this town hall meeting are plans for a veterans job fair either at the center or one of the adjacent Governor Mifflin Schools which are in walking distance to the center. Graybill agreed to providing a VA help desk with a live representative during weekends when most if the 300 plus Soldiers are present. Olodun suggested Soldier's pantry at the center after Graybill spoke of drop off free food, clothing and gas cards. Finally, Schwank spoke of organizing a community farewell event to salute the 333rd EN CO as the depart for Afghanistan this spring.
Olodun attributed the success of today's town hall meeting due to the support of the Army Reserve from local leaders. Olodun also said many of the resources are already available for Soldiers and their Families to be successful, but more bridges need to be built between the Army and our communities to bring awareness to Soldiers, and to help community leaders who are trying to reach our Soldiers.
“The key to making this town hall meeting successful and meaningful is by building on it, institutionalizing our efforts and ensuring our community leaders are a part of encouraging our Soldiers and veterans in need.
“These community leaders know that freedom isn’t free,” said Olodun. “They support the people they owe for their freedom. And it reflects in their attendance during Thursday's inaugural town hall meeting.”