- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

Employers are preparing for war by offering their reservists benefits that include supplemental wages, extended health care and family counseling.

By law, companies must allow reservists to attend military training and guarantee their jobs after tours of duty.

But some are going one step further, offering supplemental wages, flexible return policies, extended health benefits and family counseling as well.

The Defense Department has activated 168,083 reservists, 63 percent of the 265,322 reservists on active duty during the Persian Gulf war, said Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking, department spokesman.

Col. Stoneking would not say how many more of the 1.2 million members in the National Guard and reserve units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard are expected to be called up.

Adding benefits has become the easiest way for employers to show their support for the war on terrorism, said Gene Fairbrother, a business consultant for the National Association for the Self-Employed.

"Making the sacrifice monetarily is one more way for a company to back the reservist who is risking his life for our freedom," said Mr. Fairbrother, who advised businesses with reservists abroad during the Gulf war.

It's a contrast from some schoolteachers in Maine who reportedly have harassed several children in the classrooms because their parents are reservists.

Audrey Schaefer, a spokeswoman for Nextel Communications Inc., was alarmed to hear about the incident, saying most businesses stand firmly behind their employees fighting abroad.

"It all comes down to expressing our gratitude to them, and we feel they can better appreciate longer medical benefits for up to six months and guaranteed re-employment for at least five years" at the Reston wireless communications company, she said.

Bethesda defense contractor Lockheed Martin is paying its workers the difference in wages from the military for 18 months, offering a longer flexible return than the standard 90 days, and offering counseling for family members through phone calls or e-mail.

"Given that our customers are mainly the military, it's our duty to take care and help our reservists while they serve our country," spokeswoman Meghan Mariman said.

Luis Almodovar Jr. at the Oklahoma City office is one of the company's 1,250 reservists who expects to ship out for Kuwait in the next few weeks.

Frank Herring, Mr. Almodovar's boss, said the leave will mean additional travel and work for his other employees at the Warner Robbins, Ga., office.

"It's worth it, because Luis will go through more of a hardship than we will here," Mr. Herring said.

Norm Pierce had similar thoughts about reservists at NCI Information Systems Inc., a McLean information technology company.

Workers in the reserves there get short-term pay for annual two-week duty tours. For a war that could last years, the company makes up the losses in wages and extends health benefits for a month.

"It's a way for the company to make sure that our workers are covered as they switch over to military pay and health benefits," said Mr. Pierce, vice president of human resources at NCI.

Most workers are not rushed to return to work.

At Fannie Mae, the nation's largest buyer of home mortgages, workers returning from a six-month tour may take a 90-day paid leave from the D.C. company, spokeswoman Gabrielle Barry said.

"Most people don't take it, but it's a nice bonus to someone who's just getting their life back to normal," Ms. Barry said.

The company also pays supplemental wages for up to 270 days.

Two employees in the Washington office and one in Chicago have been shipped overseas for six-month tours in the last month.

While the company's 28 reservists are a small portion of the 4,700-member work force, she said, the call-ups can become a heavy burden for operations, especially if they last for years.

"We face a strain financially by having to replace workers short-term and do these benefits, but we feel they're the right thing to do," Ms Barry said.

Douglas Church, senior vice president of First Virginia Banks Inc., said such benefits are necessary for any business.

"Reservists have to have more than just a job waiting for them when they get back to keep them there."

The Falls Church banking company offers flexible return time for workers on active duty as well as continuous medical, 401(k) savings and profit-sharing benefits while abroad.

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