These citizen soldiers often have to take time away from their civilian jobs to train or deploy with the military, and that can be challenging for employers. In an effort to give bosses a better understanding of what their soldiers do, they were invited to tag along on an actual training mission, called Operation Boss Lift, to see them in action.
Operation Boss Lift starts at Raleigh-Durham International Airport where a group of employers from various companies in the southeast climb aboard a C-17. Their final destination is Ft. Bliss, Texas, for the Army National Guard's Exportable Combat Training Capability Program or XCTC.
Once everyone is strapped in and all the cargo strapped down, the group takes a 1,600-mile ride to the El Paso desert. The head of the North Carolina National Guard, Major General Greg Lusk, was waiting on the ground at Ft. Bliss.
"Thanks for being on our team. I'm proud to serve with each and every one of you! I really am," said Major General Lusk to the arriving passengers.
Then the group of employers left the comfort of the air conditioning to the scorching heat of the west Texas sun. It's excellent terrain for artillery training, but not ideal living conditions.
"We are living exactly the way we would in combat. We live on our vehicles. We cook our own food. We have all of our own supplies. We refuel and resupply ammunition all within ourselves sustained," said Elmer Harmon, who is the Command Sergeant Major of the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team. "We're out here and there's no facilities here and we have to take care of ourselves just like we would in theater, i.e. Operational Desert Storm."
Next came the real action. The group witnessed a simulated firefight with colored smoke grenades and the rapid-fire sounds of ammunition used in battle.
The bosses are able to handle actual Army weaponry and see things from a soldier's perspective. They're also able to climb inside the cramped quarters of an M1 Abrams tank or Bradley fighting vehicle, but what is even more important is they get to see their people in uniform in action.
Attorney George Hausen finally caught up with fellow attorney, Captain DJ Dore, who has traded the courtroom for Army command.
"It really can be a seamless transition. Sometimes I take my military uniform to work, work my day, change and drive down to Ft. Bragg for a weekend drill," Dore said.
Dore said having a boss like Hausen, who is also a Marine, makes all the difference.
"Having employers that support the work that we do in the National Guard makes that work on the civilian side that much easier," Hausen said. "To see everybody working like this--in such a harsh environment--is pretty remarkable. It's pretty uplifting."
A representative from Red Hat also went along on the trip. Information security manager J. Madison said the training soldiers get at Ft. Bliss benefits companies back home.
"Those employees, and those soldiers when they come back, they bring that military discipline, that stick-to-it nature. Everything they've learned from their military training comes and it benefits us as well," Madison said.
Operation Boss Lift is managed and funded by the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, a program designed to promote cooperation and understanding between citizen soldiers and their employers. The guard makes up about 50 percent of the military fighting force making employer's support more important than ever.