by K.J. Lincoln
Did you hear or see a Blackhawk helicopter fly over your lower Kuskokwim area village last Tuesday morning? If yes, you heard and/or saw right. It is true, a Blackhawk full of Bethel-based Yukon Kuskokwim area employers was on that flight.
The tour or the Boss Lift, which is what this unique flight is called, is sponsored by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and the Alaska Army National Guard. The employer representatives who were invited to take part in the flight came from organizations that have or may have employees in the future that serve in the military.
“This is an opportunity to take some local employers on a tour on a Blackhawk helicopter to help them get an understanding and better appreciation of the military service of some of their current or potential future employees,” said Boss Lift organizer Don Black of Bethel.
Black serves as the Area Chair for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
Reserve guard employees sometimes are called to duty and the ESGR helps them work with their employers to accommodate their absences and to ensure that they will still have their job when they come back.
The organizations represented on the tour included the City of Bethel, the Lower Kuskokwim School District, Yute Commuter Services, Alaska Commercial Co., the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, the Bethel Family Clinic, and the Association of Village Council Presidents.
To the flight: At the National Guard hangar, Spc. Jeffrey Hartmann gave the mandatory preflight safety briefing to the passengers before inviting everyone on board the helicopter.
Inside the Blackhawk buckles were clasped and tightened and headphones donned as the blades of the helicopter began their slow rotary spins, then faster. The craft then lifted slowly and smoothly off the ground, like an elevator.
Once airborne, Captain CPT Andrew Adams and CW2 Cody Bjorklund piloted the Blackhawk straight to the Kuskokwim River. Below the houses along the banks zoomed by, then the Joe Lomack AVCP offices, the small boat harbor, Steamboat and Straight Slough, and then almost in a blink of an eye, there was the village of Kwethluk.
Vast and pristine tundra with its numerous lakes and summer foliage swept past in between the villages. There were also beaver lodges. The Blackhawk went as far as the mountain hills upriver before turning towards Napaskiak and Oscarville. Afterwards it was back to Bethel.
Everyone breathed a collective sigh when the helicopter gently touched down.
“I thought it was an extremely smooth flight,” said James Harris, the Human Resources Manager for the City of Bethel who flew in the Blackhawk. “Very professional crew.”
After the flight, Black gave a debriefing about the ESGR program to bring everyone up to speed on federal laws regarding having a reserve guard in their place of employment.
That law is USERRA, or the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. This is a Federal law passed in 1994 that establishes rights and responsibilities for uniformed Service members and their civilian employers.
USERRA is a Federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserve, National Guard, or other uniformed Services: (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service.
The law, says the ESGR, is intended to encourage non-career uniformed service so the United States can enjoy the protection of those Services, staffed by qualified people, while maintaining a balance with the needs of private and public employers who also depend on these same individuals.
Black gave examples of how the USERRA law was applied in several occasions with local employers encouraging further understanding of how it works and giving an opportunity for questions.
The morning ended with a Subway sandwich luncheon, courtesy of ESGR.