San Diego Business Journal

Keeping the Spirit of July 4 Alive

"The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

, Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

This week we celebrate the Fourth of July, Independence Day for the United States of America. As we do so, we need to recognize that July 4 is more than an extra day off or a chance to guzzle beer, eat hot dogs and hamburgers, and watch fireworks brighten the night sky.

July 4 marks the beginning of seven years of struggle to give birth to this nation, eight years of warfare in which a relative handful of militiamen , part-time citizen soldiers , stood up to the British army, the largest and most professionally trained army in the world, and miraculously won.

Today, our country is embroiled in yet another war, and again the part-time soldiers, sailors and airmen of our country are being called upon to make a stand against a ruthless and deadly enemy. It is sad to say, then, that as we celebrate Independence Day, many , far too many , of our citizen soldiers are being abused and punished by their American employers for serving our country.

That, at least, is what a June 13 U.S. General Accounting Office Report maintains. According to a survey conducted by the GAO, reservists and National Guardsmen report employers have generally ignored both state and federal laws protecting workers who are involuntarily called to active duty.

Among the anecdotal abuses reported by GAO investigators was a naval reservist who was fired just prior to being deployed; a National Guardsman assigned to an undesirable night shift after returning from a deployment; another Guardsman denied a holiday bonus because it was meant only for "full-time" employees; and a reservist who was offered a promotion only on the condition he not be deployed with his unit.

These types of abuses are not new allegations. Since military cutbacks began in the late 1980s, the Pentagon has relied more on its reserve forces to fulfill the country's military commitments in such places as the Middle East, Bosnia and Kosovo. Even before the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., reservists and National Guardsman made up half of this country's military manpower.

Keep in mind, all this came about due to a hue and cry for cutbacks in government spending and taxes. Those yelling the most? American businesses.

Yet as early as the late 1990s, it became clear reservists were not being supported by the same businesses that demanded those cutbacks. Reservists' jobs were threatened, promotions denied , some businesses even refused to hire reservists.

The Sept. 11 attacks were followed by the largest call-up of reservists since the Gulf War. Twenty-three percent of the Air National Guard and 10 percent of the Air Force Reserve have been mobilized, with the Army National Guard, Navy Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve calling up between 4 to 7 percent of their personnel. The U.S. Coast Guard mobilized more than a third of its 8,000-member paid reserve.

Many of those recalled to active duty have been sent to fight in Afghanistan; some have already made the ultimate sacrifice. President George W. Bush has said this will be a protracted war against terrorism and more of our citizen soldiers can expect to be called to duty.

Yet even in the midst of a hot war, many American businesses apparently feel justified in not supporting their citizen-solider employees. They're gone too much, they complain, and, thus, don't contribute to the bottom line.

This attitude, however, is the epitome of the kind of sunshine patriotism practiced by those who wave the flag at every chance it suits them, but cringe at the idea of making a small sacrifice or supporting those willing to face the biggest sacrifice of all.

More than 200 years ago, a handful of militiamen took up arms to win this country its independence. Today, this country's reservists and Guardsmen are responding to the same call to protect it from a heinous enemy. In doing so, they face economic hardships, long-term absences from their families and an uncertain fate.

The least American businesses could do is support our citizen soldiers in this, their time of sacrifice.

, Martin Hill