News: Employers team up in race to hire Guardsmen
Story by 1st Lt. Joseph Trovato
By 1st Lt. Joe Trovato
Wisconsin National Guard
WEST ALLIS, Wis. - As Indy cars zipped around the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis., June 15, the Wisconsin National Guard hoped to gain some traction in finding work for its soldiers and airmen.
Panther Racing, which owns the "number four" National Guard car in the Izod Indy Car series, joined forces with the National Guard to urge employers to hire Guardsmen during Indy Fest at the historic Milwaukee oval.
The partnership between Panther Racing and the National Guard began in 2008. Since then, team owner John Barnes, has been on a crusade to get Guardsmen nationwide hired.
"It's really humbled us," he said of the partnership between Panther Racing and the Guard. "It's made quite a difference in my life and my team's lives.
"They understand that the freedom that we have is because of their sacrifice," he added.
Last year, Panther Racing reached out to more than 1,200 employers, who ultimately pledged more than 9,000 jobs for the nation's Reserve and Guard forces. In 2013, Barnes' goal is to reach 2,500 employers and net 15,000 jobs.
He plans to do it at events like those his team hosted at the Milwaukee Mile. Before the end of the racing season, Barnes and his team will host 14 at-track events in conjunction with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve [ESGR], during which they invite local employers to the race and present a program that highlights the service and sacrifice of the military as well as the benefits of hiring members of the National Guard. Panther Racing partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes program.
The stakes are high, as more than 13 percent of National Guard veterans are unemployed, Barnes told Milwaukee-area employers. For Guardsmen between the ages of 18 and 30, unemployment has climbed to as high as 30 percent.
"We have a problem with unemployment," acknowledged Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, the adjutant general of Wisconsin. “And with the help of partners like John Barnes (Panther Racing) and ESGR, we are taking positive steps.”
"I do not come here hat in hand asking for charity," Dunbar told the assembled group of employers before the race. "I don't want any employer to hire someone because they think they need to give a handout to a Soldier or Airmen in the Wisconsin National Guard. I believe you should hire them because it is good for your bottom line."
Dunbar said the men and women of the Wisconsin National Guard are physically fit, know how to lead, know how to follow, and know about teamwork. They also know how to commit to something bigger than themselves, he said.
The adjutant general joined Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the assistant adjutant general for Army, who offered a similar message.
Anderson invoked his memories of watching young sergeants and staff sergeants in their mid-twenties responsible for the lives of dozens of Soldiers escorting millions of dollars of equipment through the deserts of Iraq on convoy security missions.
"So you can imagine when they came back from deployment, the absolute confidence and the absolute competence that they had in regards to their capabilities, not only as Soldiers, but as leaders with the ability to turn on a dime and resolve an issue," Anderson said. "These are the men, and these are the women that we have in the Wisconsin National Guard."
One such Soldier was honored at the event as the "Home Town Hero." Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Mannel, of New Richmond, Wis., who was earlier named the National Guard's Recruiter of the Year, earned the distinction and was recognized in front of the crowd before the race's green flag.
"To be a part of Panther Racing and the National Guard and having their support, it's really tremendous to see that employers and people that are part of racing can just show that much gratitude and support to the nation's military," Mannel said after receiving the honor. "It makes me feel really proud that I'm a part of the military."
The employers and Guardsmen participating in the event had an opportunity to meet Ryan Briscoe, who drove the National Guard car in the Indy Fest race, and take their turn as passengers while a professional driver raced the pace car around the track.
But the primary objective of the day was business — mainly the business of hiring veterans and members of the National Guard.
"If every company in America just hired one or two or three, it would take care of itself," Barnes said. "It's our responsibility. We have lived this life of grace by having them serve for us and take care of our problems to give us our freedom."
"Make a difference," he added. "It is your obligation as Americans to do that. Hiring a Soldier will make you and your company better."