Being in the National Guard or the Reserves can be tough — and not just because you can be deployed to a war zone. Balancing the responsibilities of training for these positions with family and work life is often the more difficult part.
Having an employer who understands the rigors and scheduling difficulties of that life can make things easier, and that’s why Sgt. Mitchell May of the Kansas National Guard nominated Olathe Toyota for the Service Member Patriot Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve organization.
May, who lives in Olathe, works as a used car technician at Olathe Toyota, checking trade-ins to see if they can resell them and making any necessary repairs. He’s been with the dealership about a year and a half.
Although the law requires businesses to accommodate service personnel, individual employers can make the process easier or more difficult.
“They went out of their way” to help, said May, who is in the 137th Transportation Company of the Kansas Army National Guard.
The difference in the level of support he’s gotten at this job, compared to a previous job, is like “night and day,” May said. At another job, he said, his employer referred to May’s training time off as a vacation, even though it was anything but that.
“It was almost two months on active duty, and (this other employer was) freaking out. They were losing their minds, like, ‘No, we can’t let you go.’ Legally, they have to let me go. ... It wasn’t a vacation. I got no sleep; I was up at 4 a.m., and I worked until 12 a.m., and then I came back with zero days off,” May said.
Walt Frederick, Kansas chair for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said that when he was a police officer in Topeka, the department wasn’t very supportive of him in his military service. That kind of pressure doesn’t help when you’ve got a schedule packed with work, training and other obligations.
May has been in the National Guard for eight years and spent two years on active duty. He has deployed three times, and now he leads a five-person squad in the Kansas National Guard as a non-commissioned officer.
Even when he’s not technically on duty of training exercises, there’s always something that needs to be done, whether it’s advising younger members of the National Guard or doing training off the clock. One online training course, called the SSD-1, takes at least 40 hours to complete, and sometimes longer, due to slow but secure military computer servers.
“It’s not like you show up and do pushups and get promoted” in the military, May said.
That’s why it helps to have an employer who will be flexible when it comes to scheduling.
“Since he started here, I actually get to see him,” said Janelle May, his wife.
Tom Blackman, parts and service director at Olathe Toyota, said he’s been impressed with Mitchell May’s work ethic.
“He got orders last winter that put him doing military service in the morning. I put him (on the schedule) in the afternoon,” Blackman said.
Even though they didn’t require him to make up the full hours, May elected to also work evenings to be a full part of the team.
“From an employer perspective, he is an outstanding hard worker,” Blackman said.
Beth Lipoff: firstname.lastname@example.org