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Gary Smith: Dedicated to keeping heroes employed

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Submitted Photo Pictured during an on-site Patriot Award presentation at the New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe Academy are, from left, Marlin Wells, ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) member; Gary Smith, area chair, ESGR; Chris Lara, New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe Academy; and Steve Henderson, ESGR member.

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A native of Ohio, Gary Smith decided to enlist in the Ohio Army National Guard when his education came to a close. Little did he know at the time, this particular decision would influence the rest of his life.

“After my initial active service, I worked full-time for the National Guard,” Smith said. “I eventually decided to attend Officer Candidate School and accepted my commission.”

When he moved forward to pursue a career in industry, Smith worked with several different manufacturing companies in Ohio, while continuing to serve. In 1984, he accepted a position with Transportation Manufacturing Corporation (TMC) here in Roswell.

“I resigned my commission with the Ohio Army National Guard and reverted to the Army Reserve,” Smith said.

Feeling that the military would play an integral role in his life, Smith accepted a position in the Army Reserve as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) at U.S. Army Forces Command in Atlanta. When hostilities broke out in September 1990, he was activated and deployed.

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“I still remember that Friday morning before Labor Day,” Smith recalls, “going to work and finding a phone message from the Army. I was being ordered to active duty and had to be there Monday morning. I will never forget the look on my boss’ face when I told him. After he calmed down, his next question was, ‘What can I do for you?’”

After getting the rest of that day off, Smith said, “I was gone for almost a year, yet when I came back, I was immediately reinstated with all pay and benefits, even a promotion.” According to Smith, he found out why later on.

One can tell the honor and dedication he holds for the military.

“Desert Storm was an exciting time for me,” Smith said. “I was assigned to the Logistics section and became part of one of the most successful military operations in history. My initial assignment was at Headquarters Forces Command in Atlanta, where our major function was preparing units to deploy. The next major effort was the transport of all supplies/equipment to sustain operations. I was sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to help coordinate.”

Working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, they received so much that the airbase was literally covered. Smith was responsible for both phone calls and searches to make sure that numerous cartons and shipments were located.

“The situation got a bit better when planes from FedEx and UPS came aboard,” he said. “But even that still presented problems because they could not ship munitions or armament.”

But with the hard work of Smith and others, the job got done.

“After the hostilities ceased, the next problem was stopping everything,” he said. “The entire experience is one I’ll never forget.”

Shortly after he returned, Smith retired from military service and worked at TMC for eight more years before deciding a change was needed. Taking a position with New Mexico State/Carlsbad as a part-time instructor, in two years he became the manager of the Manufacturing Sector Development Program.

“In addition to teaching college classes in manufacturing technology, welding, drafting and AutoCAD, the department conducted training for the potash mines and other area industries,” he said.

Smith said that after 5 years, he thought he would try retirement again, yet failed the second time.

“I went to work at First United Methodist Church and spent two years there as finance officer,” he said.

Then, an opportunity came along — the “perfect man for the job” was introduced to the “perfect organization”: Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR).

“I joined, and for 15 years, served on the awards committee. Ten years ago, I got the opportunity to become the Area Chair for ESGR,” Smith said. “In the volunteer position (all members are volunteers, other than very small state and federal staffs), I found out why I’d been treated so well by TMC after coming back from service the first time. Right before I deployed, TMC won the Pro-Patria Award, which is the highest state award the ESGR gifts.”

When it comes to the work done as area chair, there’s quite a list.

“During the first few years, our major effort was spent trying to find employment for guardsmen and reservists,” he said. “Many had been deployed and were either unemployed or underemployed, and we did a lot of job fairs and other employment events to help. When the employment picture improved, we returned to our primary mission, which is assuring that guardsmen and reservists have a job to return to when they leave for deployment or training.”

The support he gives and the faith Smith has inspires others.

“One thing I’ve learned from my career in the National Guard and my service in ESGR, is they are two of the best bargains taxpayers have,” he said. “In addition to holding full-time positions in local industry, those who serve in the National Guard respond to countless federal and state emergencies. They do so willingly, and many times, they leave their jobs and families to do so.”

Which is why ESGR is so important.

“ESGR volunteers work with employers of guardsmen and reservists to educate them on USERRA — the law that protects them when they leave their jobs to perform military duties,” he said.

They also host events, including Luncheons with the Boss, and present awards.

Two local employers have recently received the Pro-Patria Award: New Mexico Military Institute and Paul’s Vet Supply. Numerous other employers have been nominated by their National Guard or Reserve employee for the Patriot Award and the Freedom Award, the latter being the highest ESGR award in the nation.

The Roswell committee is comprised of 18 volunteers. Many are former military, but it’s not a requirement.

“Our members come from varied backgrounds and they bring different talents to the table,” Smith explained. “The most important requirement is to have the desire to support guardsmen and reservists as they pursue their civilian and military careers.”

Always looking for new volunteers, if interested, Smith asks that you reach him at 575-317-1402.

He is also a member of Sunrise Optimist Club and The Gideon’s International.

With his wife, Candy, four sons and 10 grandchildren, Smith is an energetic citizen Roswell is grateful to call its own.

 

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