Bosslift Makes Connection Between Employers and National Guard, Reservists

By Kathy Gurchiek May 28, 2015
  • A KC-135’s tanker holding fuel that will be dispersed to an Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft during a U.S. Air Force Reserve mission that included Bosslift participants. Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • Bosslift participants await take-off from Joint Base Andrews, Md, where they will observe members of the Air National Guard and National Reserve on a routine training mission. Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • A passenger sits in the cockpit at takeoff. Behind him is the “boomer,” a member of the Air Force Reserve, who will operate the “gas pump” or boom used to fuel another plane mid-air. Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • A KC-135 on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews, Md, before a training mission over Tennessee. Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • Pilots on the KC-135, who are in the Air Force Reserve, prepare for take-off. Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • Soaring at 120-140 knots per hour to rendezvous with a mobile, long-range radar surveillance and control center plane used for air defense.
    Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • Carolyn Bunny Welsh, Sheriff of Chester County, Pa., looks on from the back of the KC-135 as the boomer, right, positions the boom atop the AWACS’ “gas tank.” Photo courtesy of ESGR Public Affairs Office.

  • Airman 1st Class Sumeana Leslie, D.C. Air National Guard, works full-time as a senior investigator for the Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission. Photo courtesy of ESGR Public Affairs Office.

  • Master Sgt. Dana Fernkas, Air Force Reserves, served four years active duty and is working on her master’s degree in public administration.
    Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur, on temporary assignment from the Idaho Air National Guard, shoots photos for the public affairs office during the training mission. Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • The KC-135’s boom attaches to the AWACS to top off the plane’s fuel tanks. Photo by Kathy Gurchiek.

  • Finished fueling, the boomer retracts the boom as the AWACS prepares to fly away. Photo courtesy of ESGR Public Affairs Office.

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md.—Experiencing a midair refueling of an aircraft during a joint training mission with a wing of the 756th Air Refueling Squadron was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for civilian employers taking part in the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Bosslift program on May 14, 2015

Laying on their stomachs in the bowels of the KC-135 tanker aircraft, the passengers watched a delicate dance as the two planes flew within 30 feet of each other. The Airborne Warning and Control System pilot toggled the mobile long-range radar surveillance and control center plane into position below the KC-135. In the KC-135, a crewman or “boomer” lay in a prone position to maneuver the cylindrical fuel-carrying boom into place as he connected it to the other craft’s “gas tank.”

As they flew about 22,000 feet above Tennessee, Bosslift participants and the crew were making their own connections.

Begun in the early 1980s, the ESGR Bosslift program gives public and private employers an opportunity to see citizen airmen on the job when they are away from their civilian occupations.

The Bosslift experience—which the ESGR bills as the “ride of a lifetime”—takes place throughout the U.S. and can range from mock convoy operations to video-simulated firefights, to flying to a briefing and Coast Guard installation. Participants on this day sat in on the early-morning crew briefing at the airbase, saw Air Force One take off on a training mission, and took turns operating the boom levers once the fueling mission was completed. Two people sat in the cockpit during takeoff and another two sat in the cockpit during landing.

Aboard the flight was Sumeana Leslie, Airmen 1st Class. She joined the Air National Guard in December 2011, where she works in public affairs. In civilian life she is a senior investigator for Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission in Maryland, where she has worked full time for 15 years. She also has her master’s degree in HR management.

Anytime she had military-related absences, “I made sure my boss wouldn’t miss a beat. I made sure my clients are taken care of” before leaving, she told SHRM Online.

Leslie, 39, is married and the mother of a 16-year-old son, but she said she also has another family—her colleagues.

“All my projects were done well in advance so my team in the civil sector wouldn’t suffer with me not being there. I don’t leave them hanging,” she added.

Ross Mirmelstein, director of meetings for the National Sheriffs’ Association in Alexandria, Va., was aboard Bosslift to watch Guardsmen and Reservists at work firsthand.

“It’s important that employers understand what these folks are doing—their service to the country as well as to their job,” said Mirmelstein, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. “They bring something positive back to their job—a can-do attitude.

“The reality is they need day-to-day employment,” he added. “[Their military leave] should be a nonissue.”

The ESGR, a Department of Defense agency, offers the following tips for employers to support employees who serve in the National Guard or Reserves.

  • Learn more about the role of the National Guard and Reserve by asking your employees what they do and how they fit into the big picture of national defense.
  • Get to know your employees’ military commanders and supervisors; ask for advance notice of your employees’ annual military duty schedule to work out conflicts as soon as possible.
  • Examine your personnel policies to see how they accommodate and support participation in the National Guard or Reserve.
  • Encourage employee participation in the National Guard and Reserve and help them apply the training they receive from military duty.
  • Discuss with your employees their service requirements before any problems arise and maintain open communication.
  • Seek assistance from the ESGR. Ombudsmen serve as confidential, neutral liaisons for employers and employees seeking assistance or clarification regarding rights and responsibilities.
  • Sign a Statement of Support for the National Guard and Reserve and display it prominently.
  • Become an ESGR volunteer.

Employers interested in participating in Bosslift may contact Tom Bullock, chief, Employer Outreach at ESGR within the Department of Defense, at

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor of HR News.



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