Our country is facing its most serious medical challenges in more than a century. Fortunately, amazing groups of people are helping us cope with the pandemic. They range from medical personnel and first responders to transportation and food supply workers. Another group includes 24 Maine National Guard soldiers and airmen who were trained in April on fit testing procedures for N95 respirator masks. They come from medical job specialties and are working with Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Emergency Management Agency.

Some 1,900 Mainers serve in the Army National Guard and about 1,100 in the Air National Guard. Another 550 serve in the Army and Navy Reserve, another 175 in the Marines and 100 more in the Coast Guard.

Many of those 3,825 military personnel are employees of a wide range of enterprises throughout the state. I am pleased to be part of a team of volunteers who help them and their employers. We are the Maine Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.  A Department of Defense program, ESGR was established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Guard and Reserve members and their civilian employers and to assist in resolving conflicts arising from employees’ military commitments.

Today, more than ever, employers feel the strain of multiple military trainings and deployments throughout the year among their employees who serve in military uniforms.  Our Maine ESGR has 20 volunteers (and we always need more), hailing from small business and industry, government, education and prior military service to bring our experience to assist employers, service members and their families.

The Maine National Guard has the distinction of having existed as an organization since the 1630s when Maine was often at the frontlines of American history. As a consequence, we developed a population of strong-willed, independent and innovative men and women.

Since we live in a global society, many Guard and Reserve duty assignments take place overseas. For example, 70 members of the 286th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion from Bangor were in Poland last year to support Operation Atlantic Resolve. Since 2001, the Maine National Guard has deployed over 3,000 soldiers and airmen to Kuwait, Iraq, Germany, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Qatar and other locations across the Middle East and Asia.

And many of the assignments are within our own USA borders. Some are now helping the CDC and MEMA cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past three years, other projects include working on the seawalls on Wood Island in Kittery, a cemetery expansion in Chelsea, a parking lot in Stockton Springs, a ballfield expansion in Hodgdon, a concrete foundation in Windham and vertical construction work at Camp Susan Curtis in Stoneham.

Today’s Mainers in uniform continue to serve in the proud tradition of their ancestors and will meet the challenges of the future with the same determination as those who went before them.

But, of course, it is a different era with many challenges at home and in society, both locally and worldwide. Please remember that we members of the Maine Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve stand ready to assist employers and our military members, so don’t hesitate to contact us via our website, ESGR.mil, or through the state of Maine website, maine.gov.

C.J. Hoppin, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran and ESGR member, lives on Peaks Island.

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