What two things do we not talk about in our Masonic Lodges? The answer is Religion and Politics. However, United States Freemasons helped form and maintain this great country of ours and have always answered the call to arms.
Recently I got a call from Brother Bob Roth, a retired Army Colonel, who serves us on a number Grand Lodge Committees. He asked me if I would like to represent my company and the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin on a Defense Department sponsored “Bosslift” to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. It was an opportunity to learn about the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense (DOD) activity that supports employers who have or may have employees who serve in the National Guard or the Reserve Components of the various military services. Brother Roth said it would be a memorable trip and experiencing these citizen warriors at work supporting our national defense.
I said yes, and the next thing I knew I was getting my background checked, my security clearances done, and was packing a bag and heading for the military side of Mitchell Field in Milwaukee. I reported to the headquarters of the 128th USAF (Air National Guard) Refueling Wing for our security briefings. We flew out on Monday July 18, 2011 and were back on the ground in Milwaukee in the late afternoon of Wednesday, July 20th. Aboard two KC-135 tanker jets were seventy three (73) employers from around the state joined by fifteen (15) ESGR volunteers, one Navy Rear Admiral, and two Brigadier Generals from the Wisconsin National Guard. While on the way to the air station at the Base at Norfolk Virginia, the tanker refueled F16 Fighters.
It was a special flight, and I got to see the mid-air refueling done through a boom actually flown by the boom operator at the back of the tanker, with the fighter jet about 35 feet away and all of us flying at hundreds of miles an hour. It was air ballet of a different sort. Note that the FAA considers any two planes within a mile of one another as a “near miss.” That wouldn’t work so well in this case.
The ESGR representatives filled us in about the work they are doing in Wisconsin and elsewhere. We learned that they are a group of volunteers with a few full time support persons doing the day to day coordination on project ranging from these bosslifts to working directly with employers to help find work for returning veterans and serving Reserve Component members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Yes, it’s really is a Department of Defense Activity, and there are about 4500 of these volunteers at work nationwide. The committee in Wisconsin is very busy right now, with the recent return of the 32nd Combat Brigade of the Army National Guard returning from Iraq. We learned, not without some surprise and discomfort that upwards of 30% of that force of more than 5000 solders came home without a job waiting for them. Yes, a few were students, but that just seemed wholly out of proportion to what we should expect for these men and women.
So part of the reason for this article is to let all Masons in Wisconsin know that if they have an opportunity to hire someone, that they should give thought to hiring a veteran or a serving member of the Reserve Component. I’ll detail some contact information for you at the bottom of this article that will point the way for you. It would be a way for us to do our part to support that one percent of the population that is currently shouldering the entire defense of this nation for the benefit of the other ninety-nine percent of us.
We arrived Monday afternoon at the Naval Station Norfolk, the largest Navy installation in the world, with about 145,000 personnel assigned to the base. We checked into the Navy Hotel, followed by dinner and orientation. The Reserve Component forces are about fifty percent of the total fighting force and fully engaged in the fight. Some of those F16s we fueled could be headed to Southwest Asia. Much of what we observed was training of personnel in preparation for future deployments. You couldn’t tell the difference between the reservists and the actives, and the level of morale, professionalism and complete commitment to protection of our way of life was on display.
The next day, Tuesday, we were kept busy visiting naval vessels. We boarded and toured the U.S.S. Mahan (DDG72), a Destroyer just back from deployment. We then toured the new, about to go on its maiden voyage, USS New York, LPD 21. On the bridge, the Captain gave an interesting talk about his ship. Its hull and other parts of the ship are made from steel from the twin towers, salvaged after 9/11! The City of New York has “adopted” the ship, and there is memorabilia and gifts on display from the city and 9/11. This special craft designed to carry Marines, their personal gear and all of their equipment into combat.
After lunch, we visited the Riverine Forces, and saw many different aspects of the close in Navy operations, to include the small vessels that do pirate and drug interdiction, IED bomb removal units, the Civil Affairs Units and Construction Engineers (the Seabees). The Reserve officers and sailors on site went out of their way to explain how they do the work for us in the Navy and also work with their civilian employers.
We then boarded buses and went to downtown Norfolk, VA, to visit their wonderful maritime museum featuring the Battleship Wisconsin, BB-64. We had an excellent docent (guided) tour throughout the ship. We were told the reason its not in Wisconsin is that the ship can’t pass through the St. Lawrence Seaway, as the Eisenhower Lock is two inches too small. We also learned that the U.S.S. Wisconsin was able to make it through the Panama Canal as the locks are four inches wider than the beam of the ship.
Wednesday morning we visited the Air Wing at the Naval Station and got a close look at the reconnaissance planes that are assigned to aircraft carriers, as well as the latest version of the Navy’s “Blackhawk” helicopters. It was an eye opener as well, and again, we were briefed well and treated better.
In what seemed like just a short while, we were back at the air base, loading the refueling jets, up in the air, and once again refueling. This time we got to see the Air Force’s premier ground support aircraft, the A-10 “Warthog” get topped up. The Army veteran’s on board really extolled the virtue of that plane. It’s been in the system for a while, but for those on the ground, fighting the ground war, it just keeps on giving and giving.
At dinner, Tuesday evening, I signed a “Statement of Support” for the members of the Reserve and National Guard on behalf of my business in Green Bay. I have spoken with our Grand Master, Davey White Jr., about my experiences. It is at his urging that I make this report to you my Brothers.
We believe that signing the “Statement of Support” is a wonderful way for Masons to show our Patriotism and Support for Our Troops. The Grand Master will be sending each Lodge in the state a letter urging lodges to sign a “Statement of Support”. Brother Bob Roth and the ESGR volunteers will coordinate these efforts. It will have a positive impact on the morale of the service members in Wisconsin and it does get mentioned in what our volunteers call, “Pentagon Circles,” which at the end of the day helps them get the few dollars they get from Uncle Sam to support their projects. Each Lodge will receive a framed “Statement of Support” to be displayed. Your Grand Lodge Executive Committee under the direction of the Grand Master is positive that by Lodges showing their support for our Troops, we will make Wisconsin Free Masons the first fraternal group to do so.
I urge each Lodge to use the News Hawk reimbursement plan to publicize your support in your area for this project. I also believe that returning military men will seek out Masonic Lodges for membership because of our support for them.
If you want to see what the ESGR is all about, check out their website at www.esgr.org. If there’s any one of you that might like to learn more about the ESGR or its projects, contact Brother Bob Roth at [email protected]. Brother Bob will probably have the answer for you as he was the Employer Outreach Director for the ESGR in Wisconsin.
If you ever have a chance to go on a Military sponsored Bosslift, do it. You’ll meet fellow countrymen and women doing the Nation’s business at its best. What a powerful experience to be aboard ship and have military personal walk up to you and shake your hand and say, “Welcome aboard Brother”, it just so happened I was wearing a shirt with the Square & Compasses on it.
I would like to thank our Most Worshipful Grand Master, Davey L. White Jr. for letting me represent the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of Wisconsin on this trip. It was an experience of a life-time. I learned so much about what military brothers are going through with employment issues following deployments from serving in active duty.