State Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, with support from his brother Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Oxford, wants to give military reserve officers ample time to rest before returning to their civilian jobs.

Bryant has authored a legislative bill to expand the time given to soldiers who are deployed for short periods of time before they are required to report back to work.

Under federal law, soldiers away for more than 31 days are given multiple days to several weeks off from work depending on the length of their deployment, but only 8 hours if the soldiers are away for less than 31 days.

Being in the military reserve or National Guard means monthly weekend training sessions and annual weeklong training. And for those soldiers who often have to travel great distances to get back home, 8 hours is not enough time, says Bryant.

“We want to provide reasonable time for recovery and rest and little bit of time to spend with their families,” Bryant said.

Safety is the highest priority, he says. Bryant cites the case of Willie Gordon, an Army reservist who died in a car crash in 2000 when he fell asleep behind the wheel on his way to work after an Army training session in Virginia.

Gordon reportedly dropped by his place of employment, Wawa Food Markets in New Jersey, on his way back from the weekend training and was forced to work the late shift that night under threat of being fired. He died from injuries suffered during a car crash after he passed out while driving home that night.

Under Bryant’s new bill, soldiers engaged for less than 31 days would be given more time to return home and rest. His plan is to create a “graduated schedule” ranging from 12 to 72 hours depending on how long the reservist or Guardsman has been away.

While most Maine employers are understanding when it comes to these soldiers’ military commitment, the law offers an assurance that their rest time is protected in Maine, Bryant says.

Col. Peter Golding – judge advocate for the Maine National Guard – has been advising Bryant with the technical language included in the bill. A former part-time Guardsman himself, Golding understands the pressure put on soldiers, but believes, if the law is enacted, most Guardsmen and reservists will return to work as quickly as possible anyway.

“We are an all-volunteer force,” Golding said. “We volunteer to do this, and we know the cost going in.”

The intent of the new bill is important, however, and would allow soldiers time to decompress, get home and get a good night’s sleep before they go back to work, Golding said.

The bill is currently under legislative hearings. Meanwhile, Byrant, and his brother Bruce, are also co-sponsoring a bill to allow Maine to cancel or “not renew” its contract with Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield in providing Dirigo Health insurance, a state-sponsored insurance program for small businesses and the self-employed.

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