For immediate release:
Jan. 14, 2009
Contact: CW2 Patrick Daugherty
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. -- Sgt. Jose Perez was cold, wet and tired.
And when the New Jersey Army National Guard Soldier heard someone calling his name recently, he figured it meant he'd forgotten to fill out some paperwork at one of the rifle ranges here.
Perez was bracing for a long walk back to the range when he saw who had been trying to get his attention. He broke into a huge grin.
"Familiar faces," Perez shouted. "I am so glad to see you guys."
The faces belonged to Battalion Chief Stanley Betczek and Lt. Marty Lutz of the Belleville Fire Department - Perez's civilian bosses. The men were among a half-dozen employers who boarded Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in Lawrenceville on Jan. 9 and made the 45-minute flight to Central Pennsylvania to observe their employees training with the 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion. The roughly 250 Soldiers from the unit, which flies helicopters, will deploy to Iraq this Spring for about 10 months.
The trip was what's known as a "Boss Lift" and it was sponsored by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense organization that protects the employment rights of military reservists. One of the ways it does this is by making sure bosses know what it is their people do when they get called to military duty - whether it's to train at a military base in Pennsylvania or to deploy to war in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Before the employers boarded the helicopters, Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, the state adjutant general, told them that by supporting their employees, they are making a direct contribution to the state and nation's defense.
That's because nearly half of the combat strength of the U.S. military is in the reserves, which includes the National Guard. And unlike the other reserve components, the National Guard can also be activated by the governor in state emergencies.
"The nation and our state are asking a lot of our citizen soldiers," Rieth said. For example, two-thirds of the soldiers in the 150th Aviation have served in Iraq at least once before. And another group of more than 2,800 New Jersey Army Guard Soldiers from the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team just passed the mid-way point of their 10-month mission in Iraq. By this Spring, no state will have a greater percentage of its Army National Guard force serving in Iraq than New Jersey, which has a total of 6,000 Soldiers.
It will the second time Sgt. Perez, the Belleville Fire Fighter has served in Iraq. He spent most of 2005 at Forward Operating Base Speicher, a sprawling base near Tikrit in north-Central Iraq. It's unclear where he'll end up serving this time around.
"At least I know what to expect," Perez said.
And before he leaves, he knows his bosses at the Belleville Fire Department cared enough to come and visit.
"He's one of our best guys," said Betczek, the Belleville battalion chief.
"We are going to miss him more than he can imagine," said Lutz, the lieutenant who is Perez's direct supervisor.