Veterans Affairs: Paving the Way Forward and Paying It Back

Pilot Commentary

By Paul Erickson (FedEx Express), Chair, FedEx Express Master Executive Council Military Affairs Committee

I have an unusual dual qualification—when I’m not flying right seat in a B-777 for FedEx Express, I’m in the left seat of a KC-135 Stratotanker for the Nebraska Air National Guard. In the grand scheme of things, the dual qualification isn’t really that odd because other ALPA members who fly for the military reserves face similar circumstances. Fortunately, ALPA has implemented a mechanism to help all Association members who find themselves flying for both the military and the airlines.

Here’s my story: I was hired by my carrier in June 2015 after being a full-time pilot/instructor with the 155th Air Refueling Wing of the Nebraska Air National Guard for seven years. However, I continue to serve as a reservist, and this has had a direct impact on my airline flying.

Since being hired by FedEx, I’ve been deployed twice: the first time in 2016 to Qatar and the second time to Afghanistan in late 2018. These rotations can last for 30, 60, or 90 days. In addition, I typically spend another 100 days a year flying or training to stay proficient in the KC-135.

The military offers excellent flight training, and I feel privileged to have served my country and developed the knowledge and skills that come with this kind of work. However, I also know from experience that transitioning from the armed services to an airline job is a process. There are steps that must be taken. Plus, having a family raises even more issues. I have three boys and want to be there for them and catch their sporting events and other activities.

Fortunately, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994 provides certain protections to ensure that my military commitment doesn’t jeopardize my civilian work. USERRA was created to safeguard the job rights of men and women who voluntarily or involuntarily leave employment positions to perform duties in the U.S. armed services. This legislation, which clarified and strengthened the previous Veterans Reemployment Rights statute, applies to a service member’s employment, reemployment, and retention in employment. It bars employers from discriminating against past and current service members as well as applicants to the military.

Unfortunately, understanding the law isn’t a simple task, and it’s one of the many reasons ALPA created Veterans Affairs. A subcommittee of the Membership Committee within the union’s Professional Development Group, Veterans Affairs helps members by providing a step-by-step guide that deciphers the law and explains how it’s applied. Veterans Affairs works with ALPA’s Legal Department to clarify the policies of the U.S. Departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs that apply to this segment of ALPA’s membership, along with any other related information that may be useful.

In addition, Military Affairs Committee volunteers from ALPA’s individual pilot groups, who also support the national Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, are available to talk about what they deal with as reservists and how they successfully juggle airline work, military duty, and family. They also provide information about the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian work life. Hearing about potential pitfalls and what others have learned can save a lot of heartache.

As we celebrate Veterans’ Day this month, it’s important to remember our citizens who’ve been members of the military and the sacrifices they’ve made—and continue to make—so that we can enjoy the prosperity and many freedoms we have. World War II General Douglas MacArthur once said, “The soldier above all prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” We owe it to these men and women to give them a helping hand when they need it most.

To learn more, visit ALPA’s Veterans Affairs page or talk to someone from your pilot group’s Military Affairs Committee. If you’re an active or former service member, find out what you need to know to enjoy your second career as an airline pilot. I did!

This article was originally published in the November 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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